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Richard Grossman, Editor 



Copyright, 1949, by Richard Grossman 
Copyright, 1944, by Richard Wright 
Copyright, 1949, by Louis Fischer 
Copyright, 1949, by Ignazio Silone 

Printed in the United States of America 

An rights in this book are reserved. No part of the book may 
be reproduced in any manner v/hatsoever without written 
permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied 
in critical articles and reviews. For information address 
Harper & Brothers 



Introduction - bichabd crossman, m.p. 1 

Part I The Initiates: 




Part n Worshipers from Afar: 


presented by Dr. Enid Starlde 





Richard Crossman, m.p. 

BioGRAj?mcAii NOTE: RicJiard Crossman toas born on De- 
cember 15, 1907^ The son of a barrister, later Mr, Justice 
Crossman, he was educated at Winchester College and New 
College, Oxford, where he took first-class honors in classics 
and philosophy. He remained at Oxford as a Fellow of New 
College for eight years, teaching Plato and political theory, 
and simultaneously began his political career as a Socialist 
on the Oxford City Council. 

In 19S7 he became the Labour candidate for Coventry, 
which he won in the 1945 election. 

In 1938 he became Assistant Editor of the New Statesman 
and Nation, a position he still holds. 

During the war he served first in the Foreign Office and then 
on General Eisenhowers Staff, as an expert on Germany in 
charge of enemy propaganda. 

In 1946 he served on the Anglo-American Commission on 
Palestine, and as a result became the leading English opponent 
of Mr. BevirCs Palestine policy. 

Bibliography: Plato Today, Government and the Governed, 
Palestine Mission. 

book was conceived in the heat of argument. I was 
staying with Arthur Koestler in North Wales, and one eve- 
ning we had reached an unusually barren deadlock in the 




political discussion of which our friendship seems to consist. 
‘‘Either you cant or you won’t understand/’ said Koesder. 
“It’s the same with all you comfortable, insular, Anglo-Saxon 
anti-Commimists. You hate our Cassandra cries and resent us 
as allies — ^but, when all is said, we ex-Communists are the 
only people on your side who know what it’s all about.” And 
with that the taDc veered to why so-and-so had ever become a 
Communist, and why he had or had not left the Party. When 
the argument began to boil up again, I said, ‘Wait. Tell me 
exacdy what happened when you joined the Party — ^not what 
you feel about it now, but what you felt then.” So Koesder 
began the strange story of his meeting with Herr Schneller in 
the Schneidemiihl paper-mill; and suddenly I interrupted, 
“This should be a book,” and we began to discuss names of ex- 
Communists capable of telling the truth about themselves. 

At first our choice ranged far and wide, but before the night 
was out we decided to limit the list to half a dozen writers 
and journalists. We were not in the least interested either in 
sweUing the flood of anti-Communist propaganda or in pro- 
viding an opportunity for personal apologetics. Our concern 
was to study the state of mind of the Communist convert, and 
the atmosphere of the period — ^from 1917 to 1939 — ^when con- 
version was so common. For diis purpose it was essential that 
each contributor should be able not to relive the past — ^that is 
impossible — ^but, by an act of imaginative self-analysis, to 
recreate it, despite the foreknowledge of the present. As I well 
know, autobiography of this sort is almost impossible for the 
practical politician: his self-respect distorts the past in terms 
of the present. So-caUed scientific analysis is equally mislead- 
ing; dissecting the personality into a set of psychological and 
sociological causes, it explains away the emotions, which we 
wanted described. The objectivity we sought was the power 
to recollect — ^if not in tranquillity, at least in “dispassion” — 
and this power is rarely granted except to the imaginative 

It so happens that, in the years between the October Revo- ' 



lution and the Stalin-Hitler Pact, numberless men of letters, 
both in Europe and America, were attracted to Communism. 
They were not "typical” converts. Indeed, being people of 
quite unusual sensitivity, they made most abnormal Com- 
munists, just as the literary CaAolic is a most abnormal Catho- 
lic. They had a heightened perception of the spirit of the age, 
and felt more acutely than others both its frustrations and its 
hopes. Their conversion therefore expressed, in an acute and 
sometimes in a hysterical form, feelings which were dimly 
shared by the inarticulate millions who felt that Russia was 
on the side of the workers. The intellectual in politics is 
always "unbalanced,” in the estimation of his colleagues. He 
peers round the next comer while they keep their eyes on the 
road, and he risks his faith on unreahzed ideas, instead of con- 
fining it pmdently to humdrum loyalties. He is "in advance,” 
and, in this sense, an extremist. If history justifies his premoni- 
tions, well and good. But if, on the contrary, history takes the 
other turning, he must either march forward into the dead 
end, or ignominiously turn back, repudiating ideas which have 
become part of his personality. 

In this book, six intellectuals describe the journey into Com- 
munism, and the return. They saw it at first from a long way 
off — ^just as their predecessors 130 years ago saw the French 
Revolution — as a vision of the Kingdom of God on earth; and, 
like Wordsworth and Shelley, they dedicated their talents to 
working humbly for its coming. They were not discouraged 
by the rebuffs of the professional revolutionaries, or by the 
jeers of their opponents, imtil each discovered the gap between 
his own vision of God and the reality of the Communist State 
— ^and the conflict of conscience reached breaking point 

A very few men can claim to have seen round this particular 
comer in history correctly. Bertrand Russell has been able 
to republish his Bolshevism: Practice and Theory, written in 
1920, without altering a single comma; but most of those, who 
are now so wise and contemptuous after the event, were either 
blind, as Edmund Burke in his day was bMnd, to the meaning 



of the Russian Revolution, or have merely oscillated with the 
pendulum — ^reviling, praising, and then reviling again, accord- 
ing to the dictates of public policy. These six pieces of auto- 
biography should at least reveal the dangers of this facile 
anti-Communism of expediency. That Communism, as a way 
of life, should, even for a few years, have captured the pro- 
foundly Christian personality of Silone and attracted individu- 
alists such as Gide and Koestler, reveals a dreadful deficiency 
in European democracy. That Richard Wright, as a struggling 
Negro writer in Chicago, moved almost as a matter of course 
into the Communist Party, is in itself an indictment of the 
American way of life. Louis Fischer, on the other hand, repre- 
sents that distinguished group of British and American foreign 
correspondents who put their faith in Russia, not so much 
through respect for Communism, as through disillusionment 
with Western democracy and — ^much later — ^a nausea of ap- 
peasement. Stephen Spender, the English poet, was driven by 
much the same impulses. The Spanish Civil War seemed to 
him, as it did to nearly all his contemporaries, the touchstone 
of world politics. It was the cause of his brief sojoxnm in the 
Party and also, at a later stage, of his repudiation of it. 

The only hnk, indeed, between these six very different 
personalities is that all of them — after tortured struggles of 
conscience — chose Communism because they had lost faith in 
democracy and were willing to sacrifice "bourgeois liberties’’ in 
order to defeat Fascism. Their conversion, in fact, was rooted 
in despair — ^a despair of Western values. It is easy enough in 
retrospect to see that this despair was hysterical. Fascism, after 
all, vxis overcome, without the surrender of civil liberties which 
Commxmism involves. But how could Silone foresee this in 
the 1920’s, when the Democracies were courting Mussolini and 
only the Communists in Italy were organizing a serious Re- 
sistance Movement? Were Gide and Koestler so obviously 
wrong, at the time when they became Communists, in feeling 
that German and French democracy were corrupt and would 
surrender to Fascism? Part of the value of this book is that it 
jogs our memories so xmcomfortably; and reminds us of the 



terrible loneliness experienced by the “premature anti-Fas- 
cists/' the men and women who understood Fascism and tried 
to fight it before it was respectable to do so. It was that 
loneliness which opened their minds to the appeal of Com- 

This appeal was felt with particular strength by those who 
were too honest to accept the prevailing behef in an automatic 
Progress, a steadily expanding capitahsm, and the abolition 
of power politics. They saw that Coolidgism in America, Bald- 
winism and MacDonaldism in Britain, and the “collective 
pacifism’' of the League of Nations Union, were la 2 y intellec- 
tual shams, which blinded most of us cautious, respectable 
democrats to the catastrophe into which we were drifting. 
Because they had a premonition of catastrophe, they looked 
for a philosophy with which they could analyze it and over- 
come it — and many of them found what they needed in 

The intellectual attraction of Marxism was that it exploded 
liberal fallacies — ^which really were fallacies. It taught the 
bitter truth that progress is not automatic, that boom and 
slump are inherent in capitalism, that social injustice and 
racial discrimination are not cured merely by the passage of 
time, and that power politics cannot be “abolished,” but only 
used for good or bad ends. If the choice had to be made 
between two materialist philosophies, no intelligent man after 
1917 could choose the dogma of automatic Progress, which 
so many influential people then assumed to be the only basis 
of democracy. The choice seemed to lie between an extreme 
Eight, determined to use power in order to crush human free- 
dom, and a Left which seemed eager to use it in order to free 
humanity. Western democracy today is not so callow or so 
materialist as it was in that dreary armistice between the wars. 
But it has taken two world wars and two totalitarian revolu- 
tions to make it begin to understand that its task is not to 
allow Progress to do its work for it, but to provide an alter- 
native to world revolution by planning the co-operation of 
free peoples. 



If despair and loneliness were the main motives for conver- 
sion to Communism, they were greatly strengthened by the 
Christian conscience. Here again, the intellectual, though he 
may have abandoned orthodox Christianity, felt its prickings 
far more acutely than many of his unreflective church-going 
neighbors. He at least was aware of the unfairness of the 
status and privileges which he enjoyed, whether by reason of 
race or class or education. The emotional appeal of Com- 
munism lay precisely in the sacrifices — ^both material and spir- 
itual — ^which it demanded of the convert. You can call the 
response masochistic, or describe it as a sincere desire to serve 
mankind. But, whatever name you use, the idea of an active 
comradeship of struggle — ^involving personal sacrifice and 
abolishing differences of class and race — has had a compulsive 
power in every Western democracy. The attraction of the 
ordinary political party is what it offers to its members: the 
attraction of Communism was that it offered nothing and 
demanded everything, including the surrender of spiritual 

Here, indeed, is the explanation of a phenomenon which 
has puzzled many observers. How could these intellectuals 
accept the dogmatism of Stalinism? The answer is to be found 
scattered through the pages which follow. For the intellectual, 
material comforts are relatively unimportant; what he cares 
most about is spiritual freedom. The strength of the Catholic 
Church has always been that it demands the sacrifice of that 
freedom uncompromisingly, and condemns spiritual pride as 
a deadly sin. The Communist novice, subjecting his soul to 
die canon law of the Kremlin, felt something of the release 
which Catholicism also brings to the intellectual, wearied and 
worried by the privilege of freedom. 

Once the renunciation has been made, the mind, instead of 
operating freely, becomes the servant of a higher and unques- 
tioned purpose. To deny the truth is an act of service. This, 
of course, is why it is useless to discuss any particular aspect 
of politics with a Communist. Any genuine intellectual con- 



tact which you have with him involves a challenge to his 
fundamental faith, a struggle for his soul. For it is very much 
easier to lay the oblation of spiritual pride on the altar of 
world revolution than to snatch it back agaia. 

This may be one reason why Communism has had much 
more success in Catholic than in Protestant countries. The 
Protestant is, at least in origin, a conscientious objector against 
spiritual subjection to any hierarchy. He claims to know what 
is right or wrong by the inner light, and democracy for him 
is not merely a convenient or a just form of government, but 
a necessity of human dignity. His prototype is Prometheus, 
who stole the fire from heaven and hangs eternally on the 
Caucasian mountain, with the eagle pecking out his liver, 
because he refused to surrender the right to assist his fellow 
men by intellectual endeavor. I sometimes ask myself why, 
as a very young man, staying with WiUi Miinzenberg, the 
Communist leader, in Berlin, I never felt the faintest tempta- 
tion to accept his invitation to go with him to Russia. I was 
captivated by his remarkable personahty — described by 
Arthur Koestler in this book — ^and Marxism seemed to ofiEer 
the completion of the Platonic poHtical philosophy which was 
my main study. I was arrogantly certain — ^it was the summer 
of 1931 — ^that German Social Democracy would crumble 
before the Nazis, and that a war was imavoidable when Hitler 
had come to power. Then why did I feel no inner response to 
the Commtmist appeal? The answer, I am pretty sure, was 
sheer nonconformist cussedness, or, if you prefer it, pride. No 
Pope for me, whether spiritual or secular. One can see the 
same motive at work in Stephen Spender, when, immediately 
after joining the Party, he wrote a "deviationist” article in the 
Daily Worker, again out of sheer cussedness. I like to think 
that his experience of Communism is as typically British as 
that of the comrade, described by Silone, whose innocent 
reaction to a deliberate lie caused a guJffaw which rolled 
through the whole KremUn. As a nation, we British produce 
more than our share of heretics, because we have been en- 



dowed with more than our due of conscientious objection to 
infallibiKty. After all, in his own period Henry VIII was the 
prototype of Titoism. 

But to return to Europe. One of the strangest revelations 
of these six autobiographies is the attitude of the professional 
Communists to the intellectual convert. They not only resented 
and suspected him, but apparently subjected him to constant 
and deliberate mental torture. At first, this treatment only 
confirmed his faith and heightened his sense of humility before 
the true-born proletarian. Somehow he must achieve by mental 
training the qualities which, as he fondly imagined, the worker 
has by nature. But it is clear that, as soon as the intellectual 
convert began to know more about conditions in Russia, his 
mood changed. Humility was replaced — Silone describes this 
very clearly — ^by a belief (for which Marx, who had an utter 
contempt for the Slavs, gave plenty of authority) that the 
West must bring enlightenment to the East, and the middle 
class to the proletariat. This belief was both the beginning of 
disillusionment and an excuse for remaining in the Party. Dis- 
illusionment, because the main motive for conversion had been 
despair of Western civilization, which was now found to con- 
tain values essential for the redemption of Russian Commu- 
nism; an excuse, because it could be argued that, if the 
Western influence were withdrawn. Oriental brutality would 
turn the defense of human freedom into a loathsome tyranny. 

Here was a new and even more terrible conflict of con- 
science, which AndrS Gide resolved by his classic statement 
of the Western case against Russian Communism.^ Gide's 

* After he had expressed his readiness to contribute to this book, M. 
Gide found that his state of health did not permit him to conmlete the 
task. I was most unwilling to lose what I felt to be an essentim element 
in a study of this kind, and was delighted to persuade Dr. Enid Starkie 
to imdertake the task of editing M. Gide's writings on this subject. She 
has done this in the closest consultation with M. Gide, who approved 
the final version. The text is her own, but based on paraphrases of the 
two pamphlets which he wrote in 1936 on his return from the Soviet 
Union, as well as material from his Journal and from a discussion held in 
Paris at f Union pour la VSritS in 1935. I would like to express here my 
gratitude and that of the publishers to Dr. Starkie for the skill witn 
which she has completed a most delicate task. r. h. s. c. 



withdrawal would have been followed in the late 1930's by 
that of thousands of other intellectuals, if it had not been 
for the Spanish War and the Western policy of noninterven- 
tion. The tragedy of the Spanish War and the campaign for a 
Popular Front against Fascism brought a whole new genera- 
tion of young Westerners either into the Communist Party or 
into the closest collaboration with it, and delayed the with- 
drawal of many who were already appalled by their experi- 
ences. To denounce Communism now seemed tantamoimt to 
supporting Hitler and Chamberlain. For many, however, this 
conflict was soon resolved by the Stalin-Hitler Pact 
Richard Wright’s story has a special interest, because it 
introduces in an American setting the issues of "imperialism” 
and race. As a Negro dweller in the Chicago slums, he felt, 
as no Western intellectual could ever feel, the compelling 
power of a creed which seemed to provide a complete and 
final answer to the problems of both social and racial injustice. 
All the other contributors made a conscious sacrifice of per- 
sonal status and personal hberty in accepting Communist 
discipline; for Wright, that discipline was a glorious release of 
pent-up energies. His sacrifice was made when he left the 

For I knew in my heart that I should never be able to 
write that way again, should never be able to feel with that 
simple sharpness about life, should never again express such 
passionate hope, should never again make so total a commit- 
ment of faith. 

This tragic admission is a reminder that, whatever its fail- 
irres in the West, Communism still comes as a liberating force 
among the Colored peoples who make up the great majority 
of mankind. As an American Negro, Wright bodi belongs and 
does not belong to Western democracy. It was as an American 
writer, imbued with a Western sense of human dignity and 
artistic values, that he fell afoul of the Communist apparatus. 
But as a Negro, he utters that tragic sentence after he has 
left the Party. "Ill be for them, even if they are not for me ” 



Millions of Colored people are not subjected to the complex 
conflict through which Richard Wright passed. For them^ 
Western democracy still means quite simply “white ascend- 
ancy.'^' Outside the Indian subcontinent, where equality has; 
been achieved through a unique act of Western statesmanship, 
Communism is still a gospel of liberation among the Colored 
peoples; and the Chinese or African intellectual can accept it 
as such without destroying one half of his personality. 

Perhaps this explains the indifference shown by the Russians 
and the Party apparatus towards the Western intelligentsia. 
In the last resort, the Kremlin may well reckon, the influence 
of this unreliably conscientious intelligentsia will be negligible, 
since the coming world struggle wiU be fought not between 
class and class inside each nation, but between the proletarian 
nations and their opponents. Be that as it may, the brutality 
of the treatment of the Western intellectual is indisputable. 
If the Comintern had shown only an occasional mark of respect 
at any time in the last thirty years, it could have won the 
support of the largest section of progressive thought through- 
out the Western world. Instead, from the first it seems to have 
accepted that support reluctantly, and done everything to 
alienate it. Not one of the contributors to this book, for in- 
stance, deserted Commxmism willingly or with a clear con- 
science. Not one would have hesitated to return, at any stage 
in the protracted process of withdrawal which each describes, 
if the Party had shown a gleam of understanding of his belief 
in human freedom and human dignity. But no! With relentless 
selectivity, the Communist machine has winnowed out the 
grain and retained only the chaff of Western culture. 

What happens to the Communist convert when he renounces 
the faith? Louis Fischer, Stephen Spender and Andr6 Gide 
never worked with the inner hierarchy: Louis Fischer, indeed, 
at no time joined the Party. All of them were essentially 
“fellow-travelers,” whose personalities were not molded into 
the life of the Party. Their withdrawal, therefore, though 
agonizing, did not permanently distort their natures. Silone, 



Koestler and Richard Wright, on the other hand, will never 
escape from Communism. Their lives will always be lived 
inside its dialectic, and their battle against the Soviet Union 
will always be a reflection of a searing inner struggle. The 
true ex-Commtmist can never again be a whole personality. 
In the case of Koestler, this inner conflict is the mainspring 
of his creative work. The Yogi looks in the mirror, sees the 
Commissar, and breaks the glass in rage. His writing is not 
an act of purification, which brings tranquillity, but a merci- 
less interrogation of his Western self — and the movements in 
the outside world which seem to reflect it — ^by another self, 
indiSerent to suffering. Silone, by moving full circle back to 
the Christian ethic from which he started, has achieved a 
moral poise which gives him a certain “distance"" from the 
conflict. His basic faith today is “a feeling of reverence for 
that which is always trying to excel itself in mankind and lies 
at the root of his eternal disquiet."" 

One thing is clear from studying the varied experiences of 
these six men. Silone was joking when he said to Togliatti that 
the final battle would be between the Communists and the 
ex-Communists. But no one who has not wrestled with Com- 
munism as a philosophy, and Communists as political oppo- 
nents can really understand the values of Western Democracy, 
The Devil once lived in Heaven, and those who have not met 
him are unlikely to recognize an angel when they see one. 


The Initiates 

Arthur Koestler 

BiOGBAPmcAL NOTE: Arthur Koestler was born on Sepember 
5, 1905, in Budapest, of Hungarian father and Viennese 
mother. He was educated in Vienna. After two years" roving in 
the Near East, he became Near East correspondent for the 
Ullstein Berlin Liberal newspaper chain. 

He pined the Communist Party on December SI, 1931, 
and left it in the spring of 1938, after his imprisonment by the 
Franco authorities during the Civil War in Spain, which he 
described in Spanish Testament. 

Imprisoned once again by the French authorities in 1939, he 
escaped to England to pin the British Army in 1940. 

His works include Darkness at Noon, Scum of the Earth, 
Arrival and Departure, Thieves in the Night, The Yogi and 
the Commissar, and Insight and Outlook. 

A. faith is not acquired by reasoning. One does not fall in 
love with a woman, or enter the womb of a church, as a result 
of logical persuasion. Reason may defend an act of faith — ^but 
only after the act has been committed, and the man com- 
mitted to the act. Persuasion may play a part in a man^s 
conversion; but only the part of bringing to its full and con- 
scious climax a process which has been maturing in regions 
where no persuasion can penetrate. A faith is not acquired; 
it grows like a tree. Its crown points to the sky; its roots grow 



Arthur Koestler 

downward into the past and are nourished by the dark sap 
of the ancestral humus. 

From the psychologist s point of view, titiere is little differ- 
ence between a revolutionary and a traditionalist faith. All 
true faith is uncompromising, radical, purist; hence the true 
traditionalist is always a revolutionary zealot in conflict with 
pharisaian society, with the lukewarm corrupters of the creed. 
And vice versa: the revolutionary* s Utopia, which in appear- 
ance represents a complete break with the past, is always 
modeled on some image of the lost Paradise, of a legendary 
Golden Age. The classless Communist society, according to 
Marx and Engels, was to be a revival, at the end of the dialec- 
tical spiral, of the primitive Communist society which stood 
at its beginning. Thus aU true faith involves a revolt against 
the beHever*s social environment, and the projection into fie 
future of an ideal derived from the remote past. All Utopias 
are fed from the sources of mythology; the social engineer s 
blueprints are merely revised editions of the ancient text. 

Devotion to pure Utopia, and revolt against a polluted 
society, are thus the two poles which provide the tension of 
all militant creeds. To ask which of the two makes the current 
flow — attraction by the ideal or repulsion by the social environ- 
ment — ^is to ask the old question about the hen and the egg. 
To the psychiatrist, both die craving for Utopia and the rebel- 
lion against the status quo are symptoms of social maladjust- 
ment. To the social reformer, both are symptoms of a healthy 
rational attitude. The psychiatrist is apt to forget that smooth 
adjustment to a deformed sociefy creates deformed individ- 
uals. The reformer is equally apt to forget that hatred, even 
of the objectively hateful, does not produce that charity and 
justice on which a utopian society must be based. 

Thus each of the two attitudes, the sociologist’s and the 
psychologist’s, reflects a half-truth. It is true that the case- 
history of most revolutionaries and reformers reveals a neu- 
rotic conflict with family or society. But this only proves, to 
paraphrase Marx, that a moribimd society creates its own 
morbid gravediggers. 

Arthur Koestler 17 

It is also true that in the face of revolting injustice the only 
honorable attitude is to revolt, and to leave introspection for 
better times. But if we survey history and compare the lofty 
aims, in the name of which revolutions were started, and the 
sorry end to which they came, we see again and again how a 
polluted civilization pollutes its own revolutionary offspring. 

Fitting the two half-truths — ^the sociologists and the psy- 
chologist's — ^together, we conclude that if on the one hand 
oversensitivity to social injustice and obsessional craving for 
Utopia are signs of neurotic maladjustment, society may, on 
the other hand, reach a state of decay where the neurotic 
rebel causes more joy in heaven than the sane executive who 
orders pigs to be drowned under the eyes of starving men. 
This in fact was the state of our civilization when, in Decem- 
ber, 1931, at the age of twenty-six, I joined the Communist 
Party of Germany. 


I became converted because I was ripe for it and lived in 
a disintegrating society thirsting for faith. But the day when 
I was given my Party card was merely the climax of a develop- 
ment which had started long before I had read about the 
drowned pigs or heard the names of Marx and Lenin. Its roots 
reach back into childhood; and though each of us, comrades 
of the Pink Decade, had individual roots with different twists 
in them, we are products of, by and large, the same generation 
and cultural climate. It is this unity imderlymg diversity which 
makes me hope that my story is worth telling. 

I was bom in 1905 in Budapest; we lived there tiU 1919, 
when we moved to Vienna. Until the First World War we 
were comfortably off, a typical Continental middle-middle- 
class family: my father was the Hungarian representative of 
some old-established British and German textile manufac- 
turers. In September, 1914, this form of existence, like so many 
others, came to an abmpt end; my father never found his feet 
again. He embarked on a number of ventures which became 

18 Arthur Koestler 

the more fantastic the more he lost self-confidence in a 
changed world. He opened a factory for radioactive soap; he 
backed several crank-inventions (everlasting electric bulbs, 
self-heating bed bricks and the like); and finally lost the 
remains of his capital in the Austrian inflation of the early 
'twenties. I left home at twenty-one, and from that day became 
the only financial support of my parents. 

At the age of nine, when our middle-class idyl collapsed, 
I had suddenly become conscious of the economic Facts of 
Life. As an only child, I continued to be pampered by my 
parents; but, well aware of the family crisis, and tom by pity 
for my father, who was of a generous and somewhat childlike 
disposition, I suffered a pang of guilt whenever they bought 
me books or toys. This continued later on, when every suit I 
bought for myself meant so much less to send home. Simul- 
taneously, I developed a strong dislike of the obviously rich; 
not because they could afford to buy things (envy plays a 
much smaller part in social conflict than is generally assumed) 
but because they were able to do so without a guilty con- 
science. Thus I projected a personal predicament onto the 
structure of society at large. 

It was certainly a tortuous way of acquiring a social con- 
science. But precisely because of the intimate nature of the 
conflict, the faith which grew out of it became an equally 
intimate part of my self. It did not, for some years, crystallize 
into a political creed; at first it took the form of a mawkishly 
sentimental attitude. Every contact with people poorer than 
myself was unbearable — ^the boy at school who had no 
gloves and red chilblains on his fingers, the former traveling 
salesman of my father s reduced to cadging occasional meals 
— ^all of them were additions to the load of guilt on my back. 
The analyst would have no diflSculty in showing that the roots 
of this guilt-complex go deeper than the crisis in our house- 
hold budget; but if he were to dig even deeper, piercing 
through the individual layers of the case, he would strike the 

Arthur Koestler 


archetypal pattern which has produced millions of particular 
variations on the same theme — ^‘Woe, for they chant to the 
sound of harps and anoint themselves, but are not grieved 
for the affliction of the people.” 

Thus sensitized by a personal conflict, I was ripe for the 
shock of learning ihat wheat was burned, fruit artificially 
spoiled and pigs were drowned in the depression years to 
keep prices up and enable fat capitalists to chant to the sound 
of harps, while Europe trembled under the tom boots of 
himger-marchers and my father hid his frayed cuffs under the 
table. The frayed cuffs and drowned pigs blended into one 
emotional explosion, as the fuse of the archetype was touched 
off. We sang the “Internationale,” but the words might as well 
have been the older ones: "Woe to the shepherds who feed 
themselves, but feed not their flocks.” 

In other respects, too, the story is more typical than it seems. 
A considerable proportion of the middle classes in central 
Europe was, like ourselves, mined by the inflation of the 
'twenties. It was the beginning of Europe's decline. This 
disintegration of the middle strata of society started the fatal 
process of polarization which continues to this day. The 
pauperized bourgeois became rebels of the Right or Left; 
Schickelgriiber and DjugashwiH shared about equally the 
benefits of the social migration. Those who refused to 
admit that they had become declass6, who clung to the empty 
shell of gentility, joined the Nazis and found comfort in blam- 
ing their fate on Versailles and the Jews. Many did not even 
have that consolation; they lived on pointlessly, like a great 
black swarm of tired winterflies crawling over the dim win- 
dows of Europe, members of a class displaced by history. 

The other half turned Left, thus confirming the prophecy 
of the “Communist Manifesto”: 

Entire sections of the mling classes are . . . precipitated 
into the proletariat, or are at least threatened in their con- 
ditions of existence. They . . . supply the proletariat with 
fresh elements of enlightenment and progress. 

20 Arthur Koestler 

That “fresh element of enlightenment,” I discovered to my 
delight, was I. As long as I had been nearly starving, I had 
regarded myself as a temporarily displaced offspring of the 
bourgeoisie. In 1931, when at last I had achieved a comfortable 
income, I found that it was time to join the ranks of the 
proletariat. But the irony of this sequence only occurred to 
me in retrospect. 

The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course 
with the vanishing of Capital. . . . The bourgeois claptrap 
about the family and education, about the haloed correla- 
tion of parent and child, becomes all the more disgusting 
the more, by the action of modem industry, all family ties 
among the proletarians are tom asunder. . . . 

Thus the “Communist Manifesto.” Every page of Marx, and 
even more of Engels, brought a new revelation, and an intel- 
lectual delight which I had only experienced once before, at 
my first contact with Freud. Torn from its context, the above 
passage sounds ridiculous; as part of a closed system which 
made social philosophy faU into a lucid and comprehensive 
pattern, the demonstration of the historical relativity of insti- 
tutions and ideals — of family, class, patriotism, bourgeois mor- 
ality, sexual taboos — ^had the intoxicating effect of a sudden 
liberation from the rusty chains with which a pre-1914 middle- 
class childhood had cluttered one's mind. Today, when Marxist 
philosophy has degenerated into a Byzantine cult and virtually 
every single tenet of the Marxist program has become twisted 
round into its opposite, it is dUBcult to recapture that mood 
of emotional fervor and intellectual bHss. 

I was ripe to be converted, as a result of my personal case- 
history; thousands of other members of the intelligentsia and 
the middle classes of my generation were ripe for it, by virtue 
of other personal case-histories; but, however much these 
differed from case to case, they had a common denominator: 
the rapid disintegration of moral values, of the pre-1914 pat- 
tern of life in postwar Europe, and the simultaneous lure of 
the new revelation which had come from the East. 

I joined the Party (which to this day remains “the” Party 

Arthur Koestler 


for all of us who once belonged to it) in 1931, at the beginning 
of that short-lived period of optimism, of that abortive spir- 
itual renaissance, later known as the Pink Decade. The stars 
of that treacherous dawn were Barbusse, Romain RoUand, 
Gide and Malraux in France; Piscator, Becher, Renn, Brecht, 
Eisler, Saghers in Germany; Auden, Isherwood, Spender in 
England; Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair, Steinbeck in the United 
States. (Of course, not all of them were members of the 
Communist Party.) The cultural atmosphere was saturated 
with Progressive Writers^ congresses, experimental theaters, 
committees for peace and against Fascism, societies for cul- 
tural relations with the USSR, Russian films and avant-garde 
magazines. It looked indeed as if the Western world, convulsed 
by the aftermath of war, scourged by inflation, depression, 
unemployment and the absence of a faith to hve for, was at 
last going to 

Clear from the head the masses of impressive rubbish; 
Rally the lost and trembling forces of the will. 

Gather them up and let them loose upon the earth. 

Till they construct at last a human justice. 


The new star of Bethlehem had risen in the East; and for 
a modest sum, Intomist was prepared to allow you a short and 
well-focused glimpse of the Promised Land. 

I lived at that time in Berlin. For the last five years, I had 
been working for the UUstein chain of newspapers — ^first as a 
foreign correspondent in Palestine and the Middle East, then 
in Paris. Finally, in 1930, I joined the editorial staff in the 
Berlin '‘House.’" For a better understanding of what follows, 
a few words have to be said about the House of UUstein, 
symbol of the Weimar Republic. 

UUstein s was a kmd of super-trust; the largest organization 
of its kind in Europe, and probably in the world. They pub- 
lished four daily papers in Berlin alone, among these the 
venerable VossiscJw Zeitung, founded in the eighteenth cen- 
tury, and the B. Z. am Mittag, an evening paper with a record 


Arthur Koestler 

circulation and a record speed in getting the news out. Apart 
from these, UUstein s published more than a dozen weekly and 
monthly periodicals, ran their own news service, their ovm 
travel agency, etc., and were one of the leading book pub- 
lishers. The firm was owned by the brothers UUstein — ^they 
were five, like the original Rothschild brothers, and like them 
also, they were Jews. Their policy was liberal and democratic, 
and in cultural matters progressive to the point of avant- 
gardism. They were antimilitaristic, antichauvinistic, and it 
was largely due to their influence on public opinion that the 
policy of Franco-German rapprochement of the Briand-Strese- 
mann era became a vogue among the progressive part of the 
German people. The firm of UUstein was not only a political 
power in Germany; it was at the same time the embodiment 
of everything progressive and cosmopoUtan in the Weimar 
Republic. The atmosphere in the "House” in the Kochstrasse^ 
was more that of a Ministry than of an editorial oiSSce. 

My transfer from the Paris oflBce to the Berlin house was due 
to an article I wrote on the occasion of the award of the Nobel 
Prize for Physics to the Prince de Broglie. My bosses decided 
that I had a knack for popularizing science (I had been a 
student of science in Vienna) and offered me the job of 
Science Editor of the Vossische and adviser on matters scien- 
tific to the rest of the UUstein pubUcations. I arrived in Berlin 
on the fateful day of September 14, 1930 — ^the day of the 
Reichstag Election in which the National Socialist Party, in 
one mighty leap, increased the number of its deputies from 
4 to 107. The Communists had also registered important gains; 
the democratic parties of the Center were crushed. It was 
the beginning of the end of Weimar; the situation was epito- 
mized in the title of Knickerbocker s best-seUer: Germant /, — 
Fascist or Soviet? Obviously there was no "third alternative.” 

I did my job, writing about electrons, chromosomes, rocket- 
ships, Neanderthal men, spiral nebulae and the universe at 
large; but the pressure of events increased rapidly. With one- 
third of its wage-earners unemployed, Germany lived in a 

Arthur Koestler 


state of latent civil war, and if one wasn^t prepared to be 
swept along as a passive victim by the approaching hurricane 
it became imperative to take sides. Stresemann^s party was 
dead. The Socialists pursued a policy of opportunist com- 
promise. Even by a process of pure elimination, the Com- 
munists, with the mighty Soviet Union behind them, seemed 
the only force capable of resisting the onrush of the primitive 
horde with its swastika totem. But it was not by a process 
of elimination that I became a Communist. Tired of electrons 
and wave-mechanics, I began for the first time to read Marx, 
Engels and Lenin in earnest. By the time I had finished 
with Feuerbach and Staie and Revolution, something had 
clicked in my brain which shook me like a mental explo- 
sion. To say that one had "‘seen the light’' is a poor description 
of the mental rapture which only the convert knows (regard- 
less of what faith he has been converted to). The new light 
seems to pour from all directions across the skuU; the whole 
universe falls into pattern like the stray pieces of a jigsaw 
puzzle assembled by magic at one stroke. There is now an 
answer to every question, doubts and conflicts are a matter of 
the tortured past — a past already remote, when one had 
lived in dismal ignorance in the tasteless, colorless world of 
those who don*t know. Nothing henceforth can disturb the 
convert’s inner peace and serenity — except the occasional fear 
of losing faith again, losing thereby what alone makes life 
worth living, and falling back into the outer darkness, where 
tliere is wailing and gnashing of teeth. This may explain how 
Communists, with eyes to see and brains to think with, can 
still act in subjective bona fides, anno Domini 1949. At all 
times and in all creeds only a minority has been capable of 
courting excommunication and committing emotional hara- 
kiri in the name of an abstract truth. 


The date on which I applied for membership of the Com- 
munist Party of Germany is easy to remember; it was the 

24 Arthur Koestler 

tliirty-first of December, 1931. The new life was to start with 
the new calendar-year. I applied by means of a letter ad- 
dressed to the Central Committee of the KPD;^ the letter con- 
tained a short curriculum vitae and stated my readiness to 
serve the cause in whatever capacity the Party decided. 

It was not usual to apply for membership by writing to the 
Central Committee; I did it on the advice of friends in close 
touch with the Party. The normal procedure was to join one 
of the Party-cells, the basic units of the Party^s organizational 
network. There were two types of cells: “workshop-cells” 
(Betriebs-Zellen) , which comprised the Party members of a 
given factory, workshop, oflBce or any other enterprise; and 
“street-cells” (Strassen-Zellen)^ organized according to resi- 
dential blocks. Most wage-earners belonged both to the 
workshop-cell of the place where they were employed, and 
to the street-cell of their homes. This system was universal, 
in all countries where the Party led a legal existence. It was 
an iron rule that each Party member, however high up in the 
hierarchy, must belong to a cell. There was, so we were 
told, a “workshop-cell” even in the Kremlin, in which members 
of the Politbureau, sentries and charwomen discussed the 
policy of the Party in fraternal democracy at the usual weekly 
meeting, and where Stalin was told oflE if he forgot to pay his 
membership fee. 

However, my friend N., who had played a decisive part in 
my conversion, strongly advised me against joining a cell in 
the usual way (I call him N., for he left the Party years ago 
and lives now in a country where even a buried and re- 
nounced Communist past might mean trouble for a foreigner). 
N. was a former plumbers apprentice who, through evening 
classes and dogged night-reading, had made the grade and 
become a well-known political writer. He knew his Marx and 
Lenin backwards and forwards and had that absolute, serene 
faith which exerts a hypnotic power over other people's minds. 
“Don't be a fool,” he explained to me, “once you join a cell 

^ Kommunistische Fartei DeutschUmds, 

Arthur Koestler 


and it becomes known that you have become a Party member, 
you will lose your job with the UUsteins. And that job is an 
important asset for the Party/* 

I must add that in the meantime, while retaining my sci- 
ence job at the Vossische I had been appointed Foreign Editor 
of the B. Z. am Mittag: a post which carried a certain political 
influence and gave access to a good deal of political inside 

So, on N/s advice, I wrote direct to the Central Committee. 
A week or so later the answer came in the form of a rather 
puzzling letter. It was typed on a blank sheet of paper without 
heading, and ran somewhat as follows: 

Dear Sir, 

With reference to your esteemed of Dec. 31, we shall be 
glad if you will meet a representative of our firm, Herr 
Schneller, at the oJBSces of the Schneidemiihl paper-mfll, 
strasse, next Monday at 3 p.m. 

Yours truly, 

(illegible signature) 

The Schneidemiihl paper-mills were well-known in Ger- 
many, but it had never occurred to me that they had anything 
to do with the KPD. What exactly the connection was, I do 
not know; the fact remains that their Berlin oflBces were used 
as an inconspicuous rendezvous for confidential interviews. 
I did not understand the reason for all this conspiratorial 
secrecy; but I was thrilled and excited. When, at the appointed 
time, I arrived at Schneidemiihl and asked for ‘‘Herr Schneh 
ler,” the girl at the inquiry desk gave me what is commonly 
called a searching look but might be more correctly described 
as a fish-eyed stare. Since then I have often met that look in 
similar situations; whenever the desire for fraternal com- 
plicity is checked by distrust and fear, people exchange 
glances which are neither “penetrating** nor “searching**; they 
goggle at each other dully, like fish. 

“Have you a date with Ernst?** she asked. 

“No — ^with Herr SchneUer.** 

26 Arthur Koestler 

This stupidity seemed somehow to convince her of my bona 
fides. She said Herr Ernst Schneller hadn’t arrived yet, and 
told me to sit down and wait I waited— for over half an 
hour. It was my first experience of that unpunctuality which 
was de rigueur in the higher strata of the Party. The Russians, 
as semi-orientals, are congenitally unpunctual; and as, con- 
sciously or unconsciously, every Party bureaucrat tried to live 
up to Russian style, the habit gradually filtered down from 
the top Comintern bureaucracy into every national CP in 

At last he turned up. He introduced himself. Continental 
fashion, by barking out "SchneUer I barked *‘Koestler’; we 
shook hands and after a perfxmctory apology for being “a little 
late” he invited me to a caiS across the street. He was a thin, 
bony man of about thirty-five, with a pinched, taut-skinned 
face and an awkward smile. His manner was equally awk- 
ward; he seemed all the time ill at ease. I took him for an 
insignificant underling in the Party bureaucracy, and learned 
only later that his name realty was Ernst Schneller — and that 
he was the Schneller, member of the German Central Com- 
mittee and head of the Agitprop (Department for Agitation 
and Propaganda). Again much later, I learned that he was 
also the head of the "Apparat — one of the four or five 
independent and parallel intelligence organizations, some of 
which were run by the German Party, some directly by the 
OGPU. What exactly Schneller s Apparat did, whether mflitary 
intelligence work or just harmless industrial espionage, I do 
not know to this day. Schneller himself was sentenced by the 
Nazis to six years’ hard labor, and died, or was killed, in jail. 

Of all this of course I knew nothing when I met that in- 
significant, rather shabby-looking, thin man at the shabby 
offices of Schneidemiihrs, my first contact with the Party. Of 
oxu: conversation in the little cafe, I remember that he men- 
tioned that he was a vegetarian and lived mainly on raw 

^ I do not actually remember by wbicb letter Schneller s organizatioD 
was known. 

Arthur Koestler 27 

vegetables and fruit; it seemed to explain that bony, parched 
face. I also remember that to my question whether he had 
read a certain article in a newspaper, he answered that he 
never read bourgeois papers; the only paper he read was 
the oflSicial Party organ. Rote Fahne. This confirmed my 
opinion that the Central Committee had sent me some nar- 
row-minded, sectarian petty-bureaucrat; the absurdity of a 
propaganda-chief who only reads his own paper did not dawn 
on me until later, when I learned of Schneller s oflBcial func- 
tion. He did not ask many questions, but inquired in some 
detail about the exact position I held at UUstem s. I told him 
of my desire to throw up my job and to work for the Party 
only, as a propagandist or, preferably, as a tractor-driver in 
the Soviet Union. (This was the period of enforced collec- 
tivization, and the Soviet Press was calling desperately for 
tractor-drivers. ) My friend N. had already warned me against 
this idea, which he called ‘‘typical petty-bourgeois romanti- 
cism,'' and said that if I talked about it to any Party official, 
I would make a fool of myself. But I thought him rather 
cynical and couldn't see what was wrong with being a tractor- 
driver for a year or two, if that was the most urgent need on 
the Front of Socialist Reconstruction. Schneller, however, ex- 
plained to me patiently that the first duty of every Communist 
was to work for the Revolution in his own country; to be ad- 
mitted to the Soviet Union, where the Revolution had already 
triumphed, was a rare privilege, reserved for veterans of the 
movement. It would be equally wrong to quit my job; I could 
be much more useful to the Party by carrying on with it and 
keeping mum about my political convictions. Useful in what 
way? I asked. After all, I couldn't turn the B. Z. into a Com- 
munist paper, or change the policy of the House of Ullstein. 
Schneller said I was “putting the question in a mechanistic 
form"; there were many ways by which I could influence the 
policy of the paper through small touches; for instance, by 
featuring more prominently the dangers to world peace which 
Japanese aggression against China represented (at that time 

Arthur Koestler 


Russia’s main fear was a Japanese attack). We could, if I 
wished, meet once a week to discuss these matters, or even 
better, he could delegate somebody less busy than himself, 
who would be at my disposal at practically any time for my 
political guidance. Besides, through this mutual friend, I could 
hand on to the Party any political information of special inter- 
est which came my way. The Party would probably be forced 
underground quite soon, and, if that happened, people like 
myself, in respectable positions, untainted by suspicion, would 
be even more valuable in the life-and-death struggle against 
Fascism and imperialistic aggression. All this sounded quite 
reasonable, and my initial aversion for Schneller soon changed 
into respect for his simple and astute way of arguing. We 
agreed to meet in a weeks time, when he would introduce 
me to my future political guide. “"Who is that going to be?” 
I asked. comrade called Edgar,” said Schneller. 

After saying goodbye to him, it suddenly occurred to me 
that nothing had been said about my formal admission to the 
Party. The whole thing was left in the ah; was I hence- 
forth a real Communist or not? I ran after Schneller and 
put the question to him. He smiled his awkward smile and 
said: "If you insist, we will make you a Party member, but 
on condition that your membership remains secret. You wont 
be attached to any Party-cell and you will be known in the 
Party under a different name.” I agreed to this rather ruefully, 
for if debarred from admission to a cell, I would not be able 
to enter the life, atmosphere and fraternity of the Party. "TeU 
me what cover-name you choose,” said Schneller, "and IT! 
bring along your Party card the next time.” The name which 
occurred to me after the usual blank second was: "Ivan Stein- 
berg.” "Ivan,” obviously, because it sounded Russian. Stein- 
berg was the name of a friend, a psychoanalyst m Tel Aviv, 
whom I hadn’t seen or heard of for several years. He used 
to try to persuade me to finish my studies, which I had broken 
off, at college in Vienna. "Tf you don’t graduate,” he once said. 

Arthur Koestler 29 

*you will always remain a vagabond. Whatever position you 
achieve, people will always smell out the tramp in you.” 

I met Schneller again one week later, at the same place. 
Instead of Edgar, he had brought a girl along, whom he in- 
troduced as Comrade Paula, a collaborator of Edgar's. She 
was a dark, blowsy girl with a slight squiut, about twenty-five. 
Again we went to the little cafe, and there Schneller explained 
that Paula was to function as a liaison between Edgar and 
me; Edgar was ^difficult to reach” but I could get Paula any 
time on the telephone and she in turn could always get hold 
of Edgar. In other words I was not to be trusted with Edgar's 
identity and address. 

It should be noted that at this time — ^January, 1932 — ^the 
Communist Party was still legal in Germany; its Deputies, 
like Schneller, sat in the Reichstag; its newspapers called every 
morning openly for strikes and revolution; its mass-meetings 
were given the usual police protection; its para-military or- 
ganization, the RFB {Roter Frontkdmpfer Bund, "League of 
Red Ex-Servicemen”) was one of the four officially recognized 
private armies in the country (the other three were the Nazi 
SA, the Nationalist Stahlhelm, and the Social Democratic 

But at the same time the Party was preparing to go under- 
ground; and, apart from this contingency, its activities were 
for the most part of an illegal, underground character. The 
new recruit to the Party found himself plunged into a strange 
world, as if he were entering a deep-sea aquarium with its phos- 
phorescent light and fleeting, elusive shapes. It was a world 
populated by people with Christian names only — ^Edgars and 
Paulas and Ivans — ^without surname or address. This was true 
not only of the people of the various Apparat nets — and the 
majority of the Party members had some indirect contact with 
one Apparat or the other — ^but even of the rank and file in the 
cells. It was a paradoxical atmosphere — a blend of fraternal 
comradeship and mutual distrust. Its motto might have been: 
Love your comrade, but don't trust him an inch — ^both in your 

so Arthur Koestler 

own interest, for he may betray you; and in his, because the 
less he is tempted to betray, the better for him. This, of course, 
is true of every underground movement; and it was so much 
taken for granted that nobody seemed to realize the gradual 
transformation of character and of human relationships which 
a long Party career infallibly produced. 

This second meeting with Schneller was the last one. We 
again went to the cafe, where I wrote down Paula^s telephone 
number and arranged to meet her two days'later at my flat. 
Then Schneller produced my Party card, with "Tvan Steinberg’' 
written on it, and we shook hands awkwardly. Paula gave me 
the same fish-eyed look as the girl at the reception desk. I felt 
it would be a long time before I would be trusted by girls of 
this type. They were all dowdily dressed, and their faces had 
a neglected appearance, as if they disdained the effort to be 
pretty as a bourgeois convention; and they all had that bold 
stare which proclaimed that they could not be fooled. 

Before we parted, Schneller said with his embarrassed smile: 
"Now that you are a member of the Party, you must say *thou 
to me and Paula, not you.' " I felt like a knight who had just 
received his accolade. 

At the appointed hour, Paula and Edgar appeared at my 
flat in Neu Westend. They had come by taxi, and Paula had 
brought her typewriter. Edgar was a smooth and smiling, 
blond young man of about thirty. We talked about politics. 
I had qualms about the Party line — ^why, with Hitler ante 
pottos^ could we not come to an understanding with the So- 
cialists? Why did we persist in calling them "Social Fascists," 
which drove them mad and made any collaboration with 
them impossible? Edgar explained, with great patience, that 
the Party desired nothing more than to establish a United 
Proletarian Front with the Social Democratic masses, but 
unity had to start at the base, not at the top. The Social Demo- 
crat leaders were traitors and would betray whatever agree- 
ment the Party might conclude with them. The only way to 

Arthur Koestler SI 

realize the United Front was to unmask the Socialist leaders 
and to win over the rank and file. 

He argued brilliantly and after five minutes I was convinced 
that only a complete fool could favor collaboration between 
the two branches of the Workers' Movement against the Nazis. 
Edgar asked me whether I wanted guidance on any other 
point; and when I said no, he suggested, with noticeable relief, 
that I should tell him any bits of political information or con- 
fidential gossip that I had picked up in the House of UUstein. 
After a minute or two, he asked whether I had any objection 
to Paula taking down what I said on her typewriter; it would 
‘save work." I had no objection. 

During the next few weeks my only Party activities con- 
sisted in dictating, once or twice a week, reports to Paula. 
Sometimes Edgar dropped in too and listened with his smooth, 
slightly ironical smile, while pacing up and down the room. 
As I am also in the habit of treading the carpet while dictating, 
we sometimes both marched at right angles across my sitting- 
room, which created an atmosphere of fraternal collaboration. 
That is about as much warmth as I got out of the Party at that 

As for Paula, she hardly ever stepped out of her sulky 
reticence. Once or twice she spoke on the telephone to com- 
rades of hers — always in half-words and half-hints — and then 
she became a different person: full of vitality, gay, giggly. 
We had no physical attraction for each other, and I knew 
that spiritually she would not accept me into her world. I 
was an outsider — ^useful to the Party, maybe trustworthy, 
maybe not, but in any case an outsider, a denizen of the world 
of bourgeois corruption. She never accepted a drink or re- 
freshment: when we met in a cafe she insisted on paying for 
herself; the first time I showed her where to wash, I caught 
her look of sulky disapproval at my dressing-gown. 

Edgar was more smooth and considerate; but whenever 
I offered him a lift he insisted on being dropped, not at any 
given address, but at a street comer. When we met in a 

Arthur Koestler 


cafe, I had to let him leave first, on the understanding that 
I would leave not less than five minutes later, the implication 
being that otherwise I might trail him to his home. All this, 
he said smilingly, was mere formality and Party routine; I 
would soon get into the habit of it and act automatically in 
the same way. 

But, in fact, though I accepted the necessity for conspira- 
torial vigilance, I felt increasingly frustrated. I was running 
after the Party, thirsting to throw myself completely into her 
arms, and the more breathlessly I struggled to possess and be 
possessed by her, the more elusive and unattainable she 
became. So, like all rejected suitors, I racked my brain for 
gifts to make her smile and soften her stony heart. I had 
offered to sacrifice my job and lead the humble life, driving 
a tractor in the Russian steppes; that was petty-bourgeois 
romanticism. I pressed Edgar to let me join a cell where 
nobody knew me except under my cover-name; he said I 
might be found out and thereby lose my usefulness to the 
Party. I asked him what else I could do. He said he would 
think about it. But weeks passed and nothing happened. 

At about that time, a young man was put into my charge 
at the B. Z. am Mittag, Von E. was the son of high-ranking 
diplomat. He was twenty-one and wished to start on a jour- 
nalistic career. He was to serve a few months of apprentice- 
ship with only nominal pay, under my tutelage at the foreign 
desk of the B. Z. He had his place opposite mine: when the 
paper was put to bed, we usually went together to box or to 
work with the medicine-ball at the gymnasium which the 
UUsteins had installed for the physical well-being of their staff. 
With only five years separating us, we soon became friends, I 
preached the Marxist gospel to him, and as I was his pro- 
fessional tutor as it were, my arguments were bound to carry 
added weight. After a fortnight or so I thought he had made 
sufficient progress to be roped into the service of the cause. 
I did not, of course, tell him that I was a member of the 
Party; but I told him that I had friends in the Party to whom 

Arthur Koestler 33 

I occasionally passed on political gossip tliat came my way. It 
did not even occur to me that this was a somewhat euphe- 
mistic description of my work with Edgar and Paula; I was 
already reaping the reward of all conversions, a blissfully 
clean conscience. 

The von E/s led a social life and saw a number of German 
oflScers and diplomats at their house; so I asked young E. to 
keep his ears open and report to me, for the good of the 
common cause, • anything of interest — ^in particular, infor- 
mation relating to the preparation of the war of aggression 
against the Soviet Union by Germany or other Powers. The 
young man, rather proud of the trust placed in him, promised 
to do what he could. 

Thus for a while the reports I dictated to Paula became 
much livelier; they were full of diplomatic gossip, military 
titbits about rearmament, and information about the com- 
plicated and suicidal intrigues between the German parties 
m this last year of the Weimar Republic. One minor incident 
has acquired particular vividness in my memory. For weeks 
the Communist Party Press had sneered at the “Social Fascist” 
(Laborite) Prussian Governments unwillingness to take any 
drastic action against the Brownshirts, who were more or less 
openly preparing for a putsch. One day I learned, oflE the record, 
from Reiner, the diplomatic correspondent of the Vossische 
Zeitung, that the Prussian police were to carry out a surprise 
raid at SA headquarters the next morning at 6 a.m., seize their 
arms and archives, and impose a ban on the wearing of the Nazi 
uniform. I hurriedly passed on the news to Paula and Edgar. 
The action was carried out according to plan; but while Berlin 
feverishly discussed the chances of immediate civil war 
between Nazis and Socialists, our Communist B.ote Fahne 
came out with its usual streamer headline sneer about the 
Social Democrat Government’s tolerance of the Nazis, thus 
making a complete fool of itself. I asked Edgar why my warn- 
ing had been disregarded; he explained that the Party’s atti- 
tude to the Social Democrats was a set, long-term policy which 

84 Arthur Koestler 

could not be reversed by a small incident. "But every word 
on the front page is contradicted by the facts/’ I objected. 
Edgar gave me a tolerant smile. "You still have the mechanistic 
outlook,” he said, and then proceeded to give me a dialectical 
interpretation of the facts. The action of the police was merely 
a feint to cover up their complicity; even if some Socialist 
leaders were subjectively anti-Fascist in their outlook, objec- 
tively the Socialist Party was a tool of Nazism; in fact the 
Socialists were the main enemy, for they had" split the working 
class. Already convinced, I objected — ^to save my face — ^that 
after all it was the CP which had split away from the Socialists 
in 1919. "That’s the mechanistic outlook again,” said Edgar. 
"Formally we were in the minority, but it was we who em- 
bodied the revolutionary mission of the Proletariat; by refus- 
ing to follow our lead, the Socialist leaders split the working 
class and became lackeys of the reaction.” 

Gradually I learned to distrust my mechanistic preoccupa- 
tion with facts and to regard the world around me in the light 
of dialectic interpretation. It was a satisfactory and indeed 
blissful state; once you had assimilated the technique you 
were no longer disturbed by facts; they automatically took on 
the proper color and feh into their proper place. Both morally 
and logically the Party was infallible: morally, because its 
aims were right, that is, in accord with the Dialectic of His- 
tor}’’, and these aims justified all means; logically, because the 
Party was the vanguard of the Proletariat, and the Proletariat 
the embodiment of the active principle in History. 

Opponents of the Party, from straight reactionaries to Social 
Fascists, were products of their environment; their ideas re- 
flected the distortions of bourgeois society. Renegades from 
the Party were lost souls, fallen out of grace; to argue with 
them, even to listen to them, meant trafiBcking with the Powers 
of Evil, 

The days of the Weimar Republic were numbered, and 
each of us members of the German CP was earmarked for 
Dachau, Oranienburg, or some other garish future. But we 

Arthur Koestler 


all moved happily through a haze of dialectical mirages which 
masked the world of reality. The Fascist beasts were Fascist 
beasts, but our main preoccupation was the Trotskyite heretics 
and Socialist schismatics. In 1931, CP and Nazis had joined 
hands in the referendum against the Socialist Prussian Gov- 
ernment; in the autumn of 1932 they joined hands again in 
the Berlin Transport Workers' Strike; Heinz Neumann, the 
brilliant CP leader, who had coined the slogan “Hit the 
Fascists wherever you meet them,” which sounded orthodox 
enough, was in disgrace prior to his liquidation, and the Party 
line was wavering dizzily, just as it did prior to the Molotov- 
Ribbentrop Pact. But the Party had decreed that 1932 was to 
be the year that would see the triumph of the Proletarian 
Revolution in Germany; we had faith — ^the true faith, which no 
longer takes divine promises quite seriously — and, the only 
righteous men in a crooked world, we were happy. 

One day Edgar casually asked me whether I had ever been 
to Japan. I said no. Wouldn't I like to go to Japan? Why, yes, 
I liked traveling. Couldn't I get UUstein's to send me as their 
correspondent to Japan? No — we had our staff there and I 
did not know the first thing about Japan. But to the Party, 
Edgar said gently, you could be more useful in Japan than here. 
Could you get some other paper to send you out? I said that it 
would be rather difficult; anyway, what was I supposed to do 
when I got there? Edgar seemed slightly pained by my ques- 
tion. Why, I was to do my job for the paper and earn a good 
living, just as at present, and continue to pass on information 
of interest to the Cause to friends with whom I would be put 
in touch. Would I like to think the matter over? I said there 
was nothing for me to think over; if the Party wanted me to 
go, I was prepared to go at once, but the chances of getting 
a serious newspaper assignment were practically nil. Edgar 
paused for a moment, then said: “If we get you the assignment 
through our connections, would you be prepared to take it?” 
And again he asked me to take time to think it over. By now 
I was rather excited. I repeated that there was nothing for 

36 Arthur Koestler 

me to think over; if the Party wanted me to go, I would go. 

Edgar said he would let me know in a few days, and 
dropped the matter. He never took it up again and, by now 
thoroughly imbued with Party etiquette, I never asked him. 

Anofiier curious incident occurred some time later. One day 
in the office, a Miss Meyer wanted to see me; on the form 
which visitors had to fill in she had scrawled, as "object of the 
visit,’^ old friend. She was a puny, plain girl whom I had never 
seen before; but the deliberately slatternly way in which she 
was dressed and her provocative air in walking in betrayed 
her at once as a comrade. She had come to ask me to accept 
the job of "responsible editor” of a newly founded press 
agency. According to German law^ every publication must 
have a "responsible editor” who, like the French giranty is 
legally responsible for the published contents. In little maga- 
zines and mushroom publications, the "responsible editor” 
often has nothing at all to do with editing the paper; he 
is simply a person of some social standing and with a bank 
reference who lends his name for the purpose. I asked Miss 
Meyer to explain the aim, background, etc. of this press 
agency of which I had never heard. She shrugged impatiently: 
"But doht you understand — have been sent by our mutual 
friends, and it s merely a formality for you to sign.” "What mu- 
tual friends?” I asked with conspiratorial wariness. She became 
even more impatient, almost rude. She was the neurotic Cm- 
dereUa type — ^the frustrated bourgeois girl turned voluntary 
proletarian — ^which abounded in the German Party. I asked 
her to mention the names of the friends who sent her. "Well, 
George of course,” she said reluctantly, scrutinizing my office 
as if lookiag for hidden microphones. Now my only Party 
contacts at that time were Ernst, Edgar and Paula; I knew of 
no George and told her so. Miss Meyer was furious. "How 
dare they make me waste my time with a character like youl” 
she hissed, and walked out. 

The next time I saw Paula, I mentioned the incident to her. 
She looked ' puzzled and promised to find out about Miss 

Arthur Koestler 


Meyer. But when we met again, she said she had as yet had 
no time to inquire; and the time after that she shrugged my 
question oJff ill-humoredly and said there must have been 
some mix-up and I had better forget about it. There were 
more such queer incidents, and all of them were neither here 
nor there. Maybe Edgar^s Tokyo proposition was merely meant 
as a psychological test; maybe he really wanted to send me 
to Tokyo, but his superiors did not trust me. Maybe Miss 
Meyer had reaSfy come on behalf of Edgar, who was known 
to her as George (these hyper-conspiratorial hitches occurred 
constantly); maybe she came from one of the rival party- 
organs or Apparats which tried to trespass in Edga/s hunting- 
ground. On this and on many other occasions, in Germany 
and Russia, I found Communist Apparat-work much less effi- 
cient than its scared opponents presume; and the means at 
their disposal much more restricted. At the same time there 
are three factors of a psychological nature which are usually 
underestimated: the idealism, naivete and unscrupulousness 
of the legions of voluntary helpers of the SSS — ^the Silent 
Soviet Services. 

My contact with Ernst Schneller’ s Apparat lasted only two 
or three months. It was a peripheral contact; but the fact that 
it ended there and that I was not drawn into the vortex to 
become a full-fledged Apparatchik (the homely euphemism 
used in the Party for agents and spies) was due to no merit of 
mine. As far as I was concerned, I was quite prepared to be- 
come one; I was one of those half-virgins of the Revolution 
who could be had by the SSS, body and soul, for the asking. 
I mention this, not out of any confessional urge, but because, 
as a young man of average Central European background, en- 
dowed with the average amount of idealism and more than 
average experience, I consider my case as fairly typical. The 
Comintern and OGPU carried on a white-slave traffic whose 
victims were young idealists flirting with violence. 

I was saved from the clutches of the Apparat not, I repeat, 
by my own msight, but by the innocence of young von E. 

88 Arthur Koestler 

I have mentioned that he was only twenty-one and that he 
had for me the affection which one develops at that age 
for a person who acts both as professional tutor and as 
Marxist Guru. All went well for a few weeks; then I noticed 
a certain cooling off in von E/s attitude to me, but did not 
give the matter much thought He mentioned once or twice, 
timidly, that he would like to have “a long, thorough talk’'; 
but I was at diat time overworked and unhappily in love; 
besides, I was getting bored with acting the'tJwrw. So I kept 
putting the "long, thorough talk" off. This turned out to be 
one of those mistakes arranged by providence, like missing 
the airplane which is going to crash. 

One day, while I was dictating letters to a typist, young von 
E. burst into the room and asked to talk to me alone at once. 
He was unshaven, had red, swollen eyes and looked so dra- 
matic that the typist fled in mild panic. ^"Whafs the matter?" 
I asked, with unpleasant forebodings. ""I have come to the 
conclusion,” said von E., "that I have either to shoot myself or 
to denounce our activities. The decision rests with you." ""What 
activities are you talking about?" I asked. "Activities which 
are called High Treason,” young von E. said dramatically. 
Then he blurted out his story. A week before he had been 
suddenly assailed by doubts about the propriety of what I 
had induced him to do. During the previous, sleepless night 
these doubts had become a certainty: he was a traitor and a 
spy. The choice before him, he repeated, was either to shoot 
himself, or to make a full confession and take the conse- 

I told him that he was talking nonsense; that a spy was a 
man who stole military documents or sold secrets of State to 
a foreign power; that all he had done was to pass on some 
parlor-gossip to a friend. 

"And what did you do with the information I gave you?" 
asked von E. with a new, fierce aggressiveness. 

“I told it to my friends, for what it was worth." 

"Friends! You mean foreign agents." 

Arthur Koestler 


I told him that the KPD was the Party of the German work- 
ing class, as German as were the Nazis or the Gatholic Center. 
No, said von E. hotly. Everybody knew that they were tools of 

I wondered what had come over him. Had he turned Nazi 
overnight? But it transpired that he had not changed his poHti- 
cal sympathies. He had merely discovered that to be a Socialist 
or Marxist was one thing, and to pass infonnation to a foreign 
power another. IJe admitted with a shrug that technically we 
were probably not spies; but that, he said, did not alter the 
fact that we had acted dishonestly and treacherously. It was 
impossible for him to live on unless he made a full confession. 
He had actually written it last night. But he would only hand 
it in with my consent. . . , 

With that, he placed a long, handwritten letter on my desk. 
There were eight pages of it. It was addressed to the Verlags- 
direktor, the ""Managing Director’" of the firm. He asked me 
to read it. 

I read the first two or three lines — the undersigned, hold 
it to be my duty to bring the following facts to your knowl- 
edge, etc.” — and then I felt such a reluctance to read on, that 
I stopped. The boy, standing in front of the desk — ^he had 
refused to sit down — ^looked ghastly with the black stubble on 
his white face and the swollen, bloodshot eyes. No doubt he 
was unconsciously dramatizing the situation and getting an 
adolescent kick out of it; but few suicides are committed for 
adult motives, and, for all I knew, he was capable of carrying 
his self-dramatization to the point of really shooting himself. 

The situation struck me as half comic, half disgusting. It 
was comic, because young von E. seemed to me vastly to exag- 
gerate his own importance and what we had done; I stiU felt 
that it merely amounted to half-serious, poHtical busybodying. 
And yet I felt incapable of arguing with him, or even of read- 
ing ihe letter which, after all, directly involved my future. 
Later on, when I reported the matter to Edgar, I was unable 
to explain why I had not read on. This was probably why the 

Arthur Koestler 


Apparat dropped me as a hopeless case. Today of course the 
matter is simple to explain: I could not face reading in black 
and white the factual record of actions which I insisted on 
regarding through a haze of dialectical euphemisms. Besides, 
though I was convinced that young von E. was a quixotic ass 
and myself an earnest worker for the cause, I felt guilty to- 
wards the boy and frightened of the grand gesture, ending in a 
bang in front of the mirror. So I stuffed the letter back into his 
pocket and told him to hand it in with my blessing and to go 
to hell. 

“Do you mean that you agree to my doing it?’" he asked. 
He was so surprised, and seized upon his chance with such 
alacrity, that I thought for a moment I was really acting like 
a fool; maybe with a little arguing and dialectics I could talk 
him out of his dilemma. But I could not face it; my self-con- 
fidence as a Guru had gone. Young von E. came back from the 
door and shook my hand with solemn sentiment. Then he 
pushed off, looking already less unshaven. 

That was the end of my career with the UUsteins and the 
beginning of seven lean years. I had been prepared to throw 
up my job for the Party; but not to lose it in such an idiotic 

It was at the same time the end of my coimection with the 
Apparat. Having lost my usefulness for them — ^in a maimer 
which proved my total unfitness for intelligence work — ^they 
dropped me without ceremony. I never saw Edgar or Paula 
again. Paula, I later learned, was killed by the Nazis in 
Ravensbriick; Edgar s identity is unknown to me to this day. 

The manner in which the UUsteins fired me may be caUed 
rather decent or an example of bourgeois hypocrisy; it depends 
on the angle from which you look at it. After von E. had 
left me, to hand in his eight-page letter, I expected to be 
called at any minute to Verlagsdirektor MiiUer. I had my 
defense prepared: yes, I had asked the boy to tell me any 
political gossip that came to his ears; yes, I occasionaUy passed 
such gossip on to friends of mine in the KPD; what on earth 

Arthur Koestler 41 

was wrong with, that? Everybody discussed politics and ex- 
changed gossip with his friends; and my political sympathies 
were no concern of the firm’s as long as they did not inter- 
fere with the discharge of my professional duties — etc., etc. 
This was the line that Edgar suggested; it was all so plausible 
that, after the initial shock of the scene with von E. had passed, 
I waited impatiently for the showdown, braced with moral 
indignation and conscious of being the innocent victim of a 
witch-hunt. If one lives in the ambiguity of a deep-sea 
aquarium, it is diSBcult to distinguish substance from shadow. 

However, days passed and noting happened. Then, a week 
or ten days after the scene with von E., I found one morning 
a letter from the firm on my desk. It stated, with extreme cour- 
tesy, that in view of the general reductions of staff made 
inevitable by the economic crisis, etc., etc., it was necessary to 
dispense with my further services on the editorial staff. It was 
up to me whether I preferred to continue writing for the 
UUstein papers as a free-lance with a guaranteed monthly 
minimum or to accept a lump sum in settlement of the remain- 
ing term of my five-years’ contract. Not a word about von E., 
the Communist Party, or breach of confidence. The UUsteins 
were obviously anxious to avoid a scandal. So was the Party, 
for Edgar instructed me to accept the settlement and leave it 
at that As already mentioned, I never saw him again in my 


Having lost my job, I was at last free from all fetters of 
the bourgeois world. The lump sum which UUstein’s paid me 
I sent to my parents; it was enough to keep them going for 
two or three years, and thus free me from my obligation until 
after the victorious revolution and the dawn of the New Era. 
I retained, however, two hundred marks (about ten pounds 
or fifty dollars), to pay my fare to Soviet Russia if and when 
the Party gave me permission to emigrate. I gave up my flat 
in the expensive district of Neu Westend, and moved into an 

42 Arthur Koestler 

apartment house on Bonner Platz; it was mainly inhabited by 
penniless artists of radical views, and was known as the “Red 
Block/' My three months there were the happiest time in my 
seven years as a member of the Party. 

Now that I had lost my usefulness to the Apparat, there was 
no longer any objection to my joining a cell and leading the 
fuU life of a regular Party member. In actual fact, Edgar had 
given me permission to join the cell of the Red Block, under 
my cover-name Ivan Steinberg, some time b^ore I was fired 
by the UUsteins. It had been a kind of reward for being a 
good boy and dictating those long reports to Paula. I then 
still lived in Neu Westend, miles away from Bonner Platz; 
so it was assumed that if I joined the Red Block cell nobody 
would guess the identity of Comrade Ivan Steinberg. It was 
one of the incredibly crass blunders of the machiavellian 
Apparat; for, the Red Block being an artists' and writers' 
colony, the first time I turned up m the cell and was laconically 
introduced as “a new member — ^Comrade Ivan," half a dozen 
familiar faces grinned in welcome. 

Having left Ullstems, I no longer had any reason to keep 
my Party membership secret. In the Red Block I threw myself 
body and soul iuto the fraternal life of the cell. It had about 
twenty members and met regularly once or twice a week. Like 
all other Party cells, it was led by a “triangle": PoL-Leiter 
(“political leader”), Org.-Leiter (“administrative organizer") 
and Agit-Prop (the member responsible for “agitation and 
propaganda"). Our Pol-Leiter was Alfred Kantorowicz, now 
editor of a Soviet-sponsored literary magazine in Berlin. He 
was then about thirty, tall, gaimt, squinting, a free-lance critic 
and essayist and prospective author of the Novel of Our Time, 
which never saw the light. But he was an exceptionally warm- 
hearted comrade and a self-sacrificing friend, and he had both 
dignity and a rich sense of humor; his only shortcoming was 
lack of moral courage. We remained friends all through the 
Paris emigr6 years; when I broke with the Party, he was the 
only one who did not spit at me. Now he is a literary bigwig 

Arthur Koestler 


under the Soviets — ^may his innocence and compliance protect 
him from ever getting caught in the snares of counter-revolu- 
tionary formalism, bourgeois cosmopolitanism, neo-Kantian 
banditism, or just liberal depravity. 

Our Org,-Leiter was Max Schroder, also a literateur who 
lived on the reputation he had earned with several remarkable 
poems published at the age of nineteen, that is to say fifteen 
years earlier. But he too was a good egg, the lovable type of 
Munich bohemian, who had found in his devotion to the 
Party a compensation for his literary, sexual, pecuniary, and 
other frustrations. The job of Agitprop fell to me soon after 
I had joined the cell; some of the leaflets and broadsheets I 
produced had, I still believe, a truly Jacobin pathos. Among 
other members of our cell I remember Dr. Wilhelm Reich, 
Founder and Director of the Sex-Pot (Institute for Sexual 
Politics). He was* a Freudian Marxist; inspired by Malinowski, 
he had just published a book called The Function of the 
Orgasm^ in which he expounded the theory that the sexual 
frustration of the Proletariat caused a thwartiug of its political 
consciousness; only through a full, uninhibited release of the 
sexual urge could the working-class realize its revolutionary 
potentialities and historic mission; the whole thing was less 
cock-eyed than it sounds. After the victory of Hitler, Reich 
published a brilliant psychological study of the Nazi mentality, 
which the Party condemned; he broke with Communism and 
is now director of a scientific research institute in the U. S. A. 
We also had two actors from an avant-garde theater called 
'‘The Mouse Trap”; several girls with vaguely intellectual ambi- 
tions; an insurance agent; young Ernst, son of our local fruit 
vendor, and several working men. 

Half the activities of the cell were legal, half illegal. All 
our meetings started with a political lecture which was de- 
livered either by the Pot-Leiter after he had been briefed at 
the Party^s District HQ, or by an instructor from Headquarters 
itself. The purpose of the lecture was to lay down the political 
line on the various questions of the day. During that fateful 

44 Arthur Koestler 

spring and summer of 1932, a series of elections took place 
which shook the country like a succession of earthquakes — 
the Presidential elections, two Reichstag elections, and an elec- 
tion for the Prussian Diet; all in all four red-hot election 
campaigns within eight months in a country on the verge 
of civil war. We participated in the campaigns ^by door-to- 
door canvassing, distributing Party literature and turning out 
leaflets of our own. The canvassing was the most arduous part 
of it; it was mostly done on Sunday momiSgs, when people 
were supposed to be at home. You rang the doorbell, wedged 
your foot between door and post and offered your pamphlets 
and leaflets, with a genial invitation to engage in a political 
discussion on the spot. In short, we sold the World Revolution 
like vacuum cleaners. Reactions were mostly unfriendly, rarely 
aggressive. I often had the door banged in my face but never 
a fight. However, we avoided ringing the bells of known Nazis. 
And the Nazis in and round our block were mostly known to 
us, just as we were aU knowm to the Nazis, through our rival 
nets of cells and Blockwarts. The whole of Germany, town 
and countryside, was covered by those two elaborate and 
fine-meshed dragnets. I still believe that, without the wild 
jerks from Moscow which kept entangling our nets and tear- 
ing them from our hands, we would have had a fair chance 
to win. The idea, the readiness for sacrifice, the support of 
the masses were aU there. 

We lost the fight, because we were not fishermen, as we 
thought, but bait danghng from a hook. We did not realize 
this, because our brains had been reconditioned to accept any 
absurd line of action ordered from above as our innermost 
wish and convicfion. We had refused to nominate a joint 
candidate with the Socialists for the Presidency, and when 
the Socialists backed Hindenburg as the lesser evil against 
Hitler, we nominated Thalmann though he had no chance 
whatsoever — except, maybe, to split off enough proletarian 
votes to bring Hitler immediately into power. Our instructor 
gave us a lecture proving that there was no such thing as 

Arthur Koestler 


a "lesser evil,’" that it was a philosophical, strategical and tacti- 
cal fallacy; a Trotskyite, diversionist, liquidatorial and counter- 
revolutionary conception. Henceforth we had only pity and 
spite for tliose who as much as mentioned the ominous term; 
and, moreover, we were convinced that we had always been 
convinced that it was an invention of the devil. How could 
anybody fail to see that to have both legs amputated was 
better than trying to save one, and that the correct revolu- 
tionary policy was to kick the crippled Republic’s crutches 
away? Faith is a wondrous thing; it is not only capable of 
moving mountains, but also of making you believe that a 
herring is a race horse. 

Not only our thinking, but also our vocabulary was recon- 
ditioned. Certain words were taboo — ^for instance "lesser evil” 
or "spontaneous”; the latter because ""spontaneous” manifesta- 
tions of the revolutionary class-consciousness were part of 
Trotsky’s theory of the Permanent Revolution. Other words 
and turns of phrase became favorite stock-in-trade. I mean 
not only the obvious words of Communist jargon like ""the toil- 
ing masses”; but words like ""concrete” or ""sectarian” (""You 
must put your question into a more concrete form. Comrade”; 
""you are adoptmg a Left-sectarian attitude. Comrade”); and 
even such abstruse words as ""herostratic.” In one of his works 
Lenin had mentioned Herostratus, the Greek who burnt 
down a temple because he could thmk of no other way of 
achieving fame. Accordingly, one often heard and read phrases 
like ""the criminally herostratic madness of the counter-revolu- 
tionary wreckers of the heroic eflEorts of the toiling masses in 
the Fatherland of the Proletariat to achieve the second Five 
Year Plan in four years.” 

According to their vocabulary and favorite cliches, you could 
smell out at once people with Trotskyite, Reformist, Brandler- 
ite, Blanquist and other deviations. And vice versa, Commun- 
ists betrayed themselves by their vocabulary to the police, and 
later to the Gestapo. I know of one girl whom the Gestapo had 
picked up almost at random, without any evidence against 

Arthur Koestler 


her, and who was caught out on the word "concrete.’' The 
Gestapo Commissar had listened to her with boredom, half- 
convinced that his underlings had blundered in arresting her 
— ^until she used the fatal word for the second time. The Com- 
missar pricked his ears. "Where did you pick up that expres- 
sion?” he asked. The girl, until that moment quite self- 
possessed, became rattled, and once rattled she was lost. 

Our literary, artistic and musical tastes were similarly recon- 
ditioned. Lenin had said somewhere that he Jrad learned more 
about France from Balzac’s novels than from aU history books 
put together. Accordingly, Balzac was the greatest of all times, 
whereas other novelists of the past merely reflected "the dis- 
torted values of the decaying society which had produced 
them.” On the Art Front the guiding principle of the period 
was Revolutionary Dynamism. A picture without a smoking 
factory chimney or a tractor in it was escapist; on the other 
hand, the slogan "dynamism” left sufficient scope for cubist, 
expressionist, and other experimental styles. This changed a 
few years later when Revolutionary Dynamism was super- 
seded by Socialist Realism; henceforth everything modern and 
experimental became branded as "bourgeois formalism” ex- 
pressing "the putrid corruption of capitalist decay.” In both 
music and drama, the chorus was regarded at that time as the 
highest form of expression, because it reflected a collective, as 
opposed to a bourgeois-individualistic, approach. As individual 
personae could not be altogether abolished on the stage, they 
had to be stylized, typified, depersonalized (Meyerhold, Pis- 
cator, Brecht, Auden-Isherwood-Spender). Psychology became 
greatly simplified: there were two recognized emotive im- 
pulses: class solidarity and the sexual urge. The rest was 
^T)ourgeois metaphysics”; or, like ambition and the lust for 
power, "products of competitive capitalist economy.” 

As for the "sexual urge,” though it was officially sanctioned, 
we were in something of a quandary about it. Monogamy, 
and the whole institution of the family, were a product of the 
economic system; they bred individualism, hypocrisy, an 

Arthur Koestler 


escapist attitude to the class struggle and were altogether to 
be rejected; bourgeois matrimony was merely a form of prosti- 
tution sanctioned by society. But promiscuity was equally a 
Bad Thing. It had flourished in the Party, both in Russia and 
abroad, until Lenin made his famous pronouncement against 
the Glass of Water Theory (that is, against the popular maxim 
that the sexual act was of no more consequence than the 
quenching of thirst by a glass of water). Hence bourgeois mor- 
ality was a BadT’hing. But promiscuity was an equally Bad 
Thing, and the only correct, concrete attitude towards the 
sexual urge was Proletarian Morality. This consisted in getting 
married, being faithful to one’s spouse, and producing prole- 
tarian babies. But then, was this not the same thing as bour- 
geois morality? — ^The question. Comrade, shows that you are 
thinking in mechanistic, not in dialectical, terms. What is the 
difference between a gun in the hands of a policeman and a 
gun in the hands of a member of the revolutionary working 
class? The difference between a gun in the hands of a police- 
man and in the hands of a member of the revolutionary 
working class is that the policeman is a lackey of the ruling 
class and his gun an instrument of oppression, whereas the 
same gun in the hands of a member of the revolutionary work- 
ing class is an instrument of the liberation of the oppressed 
masses. Now the same is true of the difference between so- 
called bourgeois "morality” and Proletarian Morality. The in- 
stitution of marriage which in capitalist society is an aspect of 
bourgeois decay, is dialectically transformed in its function in 
a healthy proletarian society. Have you understood, Comrade, 
or shall I repeat my answer in more concrete terms? 

Repetitiveness oSF diction, the catechism technique of asking 
a rhetorical question and repeating the full question in the 
answer; the use of stereotyped adjectives and the dismissal of 
an attitude or fact by the simple expedient of putting words 
in inverted commas and giving them an ironic inflection (the 
"revolutionary” past of Trotsky, the "humanistic” bleatings of 
the ""Rberal” press, etc.); all these were essential parts of a 

48 Arthur Koestler 

style, of which Josef Djugashwili is the xmcontested master, 
and which through its very tedium produced a dull, hypnotic 
effect. Two hours of this dialectical tom-tom and you didnT 
know whether you were a boy or a girl, and were ready to 
believe either as soon as the rejected alternative appeared in 
inverted commas. You were also ready to believe that the 
Socialists were: (a) your main enemies, (b) your natural 
allies; that socialist and capitalist countries; (a) could live 
peacefully side by side, and (b) could not live peacefully side 
by side; and that when Engels had written that Socialism in 
One Country was impossible, he had meant the exact opposite. 
You further learned to prove, by the method of chain-deduc- 
tion, that anybody who disagreed with you was an agent of 
Fascism, because: (a) by his disagreeing with your line he 
endangered the unity of the Party; (b) by endangering the 
unity of the Party he improved the chances of a Fascist vic- 
tory; hence (c) he acted objectively as an agent of Fascism 
even if subjectively he happened to have his Iddneys smashed 
to pulp by the Fascists in Dachau. Generally speaking, words 
like "agent of,” ‘TDemocracy,” "Freedom,” etc. meant some- 
thing quite difierent in Party usage from what they meant in 
general usage; and as, furthermore, even their Party meaning 
changed with each shift of the line, our polemical methods 
became rather like the croquet game of the Queen of Hearts, 
in which the hoops moved about the field and the balls were 
live hedgehogs. With this difference, that when a player missed 
his turn and the Queen shouted "Off with his head,” the order 
was executed in earnest. To survive, we aU had to become 
virtuosos of Wonderland croquet. 

A special feature of Party life at that period was the cult 
of the proletarian and abuse of the intelligentsia. It was the 
obsession, the smarting complex of all Communist intellectuals 
of middle-class origin. We were in the Movement on suffer- 
ance, not by right; this was rubbed into our consciousness 
night and day. We had to be tolerated because Lenin had said 
so, and because Russia could not do without the doctors, en- 

Arthur Koestler 


gineers and scientists of the pre-revolutionary intelligentsia, 
and without the hated foreign specialists. But we were no more 
trusted or respected than the category of ‘"Useful Jews" in the 
Third Reich who were allowed to survive and were given dis- 
tinctive armlets so that they should not by mistake be pushed 
into a gas-chamber before their span of usefulness expired. 
The "Aryans" in the Party were the Proletarians, and the 
social origin of parents and grandparents was as weighty a 
factor both when applying for membership and during the 
biannual routine purges as Aryan descent was with the Nazis. 
The ideal Proletarians were the Russian factory workers, and 
the elite among the latter were those of the Putilov Works in 
Leningrad and of the oil fields in Baku. In all books which we 
read or wrote, the ideal proletarian was always broad-shoul- 
dered, with an open face and simple features; he was fully 
class-conscious, his sexual urge was kept well under control; 
he was strong and silent, wamdiearted but ruthless when neces- 
sary, had big feet, homy hands and a deep baritone voice to 
sing revolutionary songs with. Proletarians who were not Com- 
munists were not real proletarians — ^they belonged either to 
the Lumpen-Proletariat or to the Workers' Aristocracy. No 
movement can exist without a heroic archetype; Comrade Ivan 
Ivanovich of the Putilov Works was our Buffalo Bill. 

A member of the intelligentsia could never become a real 
proletarian, but his duty was to become as nearly one as he 
could. Some tried to achieve this by forsaking neckties, by 
wearing polo sweaters and black fingernails. This, however, 
was discouraged: it was imposture and snobbery. The correct 
way was never to write, say, and above all never to think, any- 
thing which could not be understood by the dustman. We 
cast off our intellectual baggage like passengers on a ship 
seized by panic, until it became reduced to the strictly neces- 
sary TniTiirmim of stock-phrases, dialectical cliches and Marxist 
quotations, which constitute the international jargon of 
Djugashwilese. To have shared the doubtful privilege of a 
bourgeois education, to be able to see several aspects of a 

50 Arthur Koestler 

problem and not only one, became a permanent cause of self- 
reproach. We craved to become single- and simple-minded. 
Intellectual self-castration was a small price to pay for achiev- 
ing some likeness to Comrade Ivan Ivanovich. 


To come back to life in the ceU. The meetings, as I have 
said, started with one, sometimes two, political lectures which 
laid down the line. This was followed by discussion, but dis- 
cussion of a peculiar kind. It is a basic rule of Communist 
discipline that, once the Party has decided to adopt a certain 
line regarding a given problem, all criticism of that decision 
becomes deviationist sabotage. In theory, discussion is per- 
missible prior to the decision. But as all decisions are imposed 
from above, out of the blue, without consulting any repre- 
sentative body of the rank and file, the latter is deprived of any 
influence on policy and even of the chance of expressing an 
opinion on it; while at the same time the leadership is deprived 
of the means of gaugmg the mood of the masses. One of the 
slogans of the German Party said; "The front-line is no place 
for discussions.’* Another said: "Wherever a Communist hap- 
pens to be, he is always in the front-line.” 

So our discussions always showed a complete unanimity of 
opinion, and the form they took was that one member of the 
cell after another got up and recited approving variations in 
Djugashwilese on the theme set by the lecturer. But "recited” 
is probably not the proper word here. We groped painfuUy in 
our minds not only to find justifications for the line laid down, 
but also to find traces of former thoughts which would prove 
to ourselves that we had always held the required opinion. In 
this operation we mostly succeeded. I may have been some- 
what bewildered when we were told by the instructor that the 
Party’s main slogan in the coming elections to the Prussian 
Diet was to be not the seven million German unemployed, or 
the threats of the Brownshirts, but "the defense of the Chinese 
proletariat against the aggression of the Japanese pirates.” But 

Arthur Koestler 51 

if I was bewildered, I no longer remember it I do, however, 
remember writing a sincere and eloquent election leaflet, which 
proved just why events in Shanghai were more important to 
the German working class than events in Berlin; and the pat on 
the shoulder I received for it from District HQ still makes me 
feel good — I can t help it. 

The proletarian members of the cell usually sat through the 
lecture with a sleepy expression; they hstened, with eyelids 
sht in mistrust, to*the intellectuals expounding the reasons for 
their agreement; then, after some nudging, one of them would 
get up and repeat, in a dehberately awkward manner and with 
an air of defiance, the main slogans from the Inspector s speech 
without bothering to change the words. He would be listened 
to in solemn silence, sit down amidst a murmur of approval, 
and the instructor, winding up the proceedings, would point 
out that of all the speakers Comrade X had formulated the 
problem in the happiest and most concrete terms. 

As I mentioned before, the summer of 1932 was a period of 
transition; the Party was preparing to go underground and 
accordingly regrouping its cadres. We might be outlawed 
overnight; everything had to be ready for this emergency. 
The moment we were forced into illegality aU Party cells 
would cease to function and would be superseded by a new, 
nation-wide structure, the "‘Groups of Five.” The cells, whose 
membership ranged from ten to thirty comrades, were too 
large for underground work and offered easy opportunities 
for agents 'provocateurs and informers. The breaking up of the 
cadres into Groups of Five meant organizational decentraliza- 
tion and a corresponding diminution of risks. Only the leader 
of the Group was to know the identity and addresses of the 
other four; and he alone had contact with the next higher 
level of the Party hierarchy. If he was arrested, he could only 
betray the four individuals in his Group, and his contact man. 

So, while the cell still continued to function, each member 
was secretly allotted to a Group of Five, the idea being that 
none of the Groups should know the composition of any 

52 Arthur Koestler 

other. In fact, as we were all neighbors in the Block, we each 
knew which Group was secretly meeting in whose flat; and 
on the night of the burning of the Reichstag, when Goring 
dealt his death blow to the Communist Party, die Groups scat- 
tered and the whole elaborate structure collapsed all over the 
Reich. We had marveled at the conspiratorial ingenuity of 
our leaders, and, though aU of us had read works on the tech- 
nique of insurrection and civil warfare, our critical faculties 
had become so numbed that none of us realized the catas- 
trophic implications of the scheme. To prepare for a long 
underground existence in small decentralized groups meant 
that our leaders accepted the victory of Nazism as inevitable. 
And the breaking up of the cadres into small units indicated 
that the Party would offer no open, armed resistance to the 
ascent of Hitler to power, but was preparing for sporadic 
small-scale action instead. 

But we, the rank and file, knew nothing of this. During that 
long, stifling summer of 1932 we fought our ding-dong battles 
with the Nazis. Hardly a day passed without one or two dead 
in Berlin. The main battlefields were the Bierstuhen^ the smoky 
little taverns of the working-class districts. Some of these 
served as meeting-places for the Nazis, some as meeting-places 
{Verkehrshkale) for us. To enter the wrong pub was to 
venture into the enemy lines. From time to time the Nazis 
would shoot up one of our Verkehrslokole. It was done in the 
classic Chicago tradition: a gang of SA men would drive 
slowly past the tavern, firing through the glass-panes, then 
vanish at breakneck speed. We had far fewer motorcars than 
the Nazis, and retaliation was mostly carried out in cars either 
stolen or borrowed from sympathizers. The men who did these 
jobs were members of the RP^, the League of Communist War 
Veterans. My car was sometimes borrowed by comrades whom 
I had never seen before, and returned a few hours later with 
no questions asked and no explanations offered. It was a tiny, 
red, open Fiat car, model 509, most unsuitable for such pur- 
poses; but nobody else in our cell had one. It was the last relic 

Arthur Koestler 53 

of my bourgeois past; now it served as a vehicle for the Prole- 
tarian Revolution. I spent half my time driving it round on 
various errands: transporting pamphlets and leaflets, shadow- 
ing certain Nazi cars whose numbers had been indicated to 
us, and acting as a security escort. Once I had to transport the 
equipment of a complete hand printing press from a railway 
station to a cellar under a greengrocer s shop. 

The RFB men who came to fetch the car for their guerrilla 
expedition were s(toetimes rather sinister types from the Ber- 
lin underworld. They came, announced by a telephone call or 
verbal message from District HQ, but the same men rarely 
turned up twice. Sometimes, on missions of a more harmless 
nature, I was ordered myself to act as driver. We would drive 
slowly past a number of Nazi pubs to watch the goings-on, or 
patrol a pub of our own when one of our informers in the Nazi 
camp warned us of an impending attack. This latter kind of 
mission was unpleasant; we would park, with headlights turned 
off and engine running, in the proximity of the pub; and at the 
approach of a car I would hear the click of the safety catch on 
my passengers’ guns, accompanied by the gentle advice "to 
keep my block well down.” But I never saw it come to any 
actual shooting. 

Once the RFB men who came to fetch the car disguised 
themselves in my flat before starting out. They stuck on 
mustaches, put on glasses, dark jackets and bowler hats. I 
watched them from the window driving off — ^four stately, 
bowler-hatted gents in the ridiculous little red car, looking 
like a party in a funeral procession. They came back four 
hours later, changed back to normal, and made off with a 
silent handshake. My instructions, in case the number of the 
car was taken by the police dmring some action, were to say 
that it had been stolen and that I had foimd it again in a 
deserted street. 

From time to time a rumor got around that the Nazis were 
going to attack our Red Block as they had attacked other 
notorious Communist agglomerations before. Then we were 

54 Arthur Koestler 

alerted and some RFB men turned up to mount guard. One 
critical night about thirty of us kept vigil in my tiny flat, armed 
with guns, lead pipes and leather batons. It happened to be the 
night when Ernst, a friend of mine, arrived from Vienna to 
stay for a few days. He was a young scientist with a shy, 
gentle manner and a razor-sharp mind. The flat was dim with 
cigarette smoke; men were sitting or sleeping all over the place 
— on the beds, on the floor, under the kitchen sink, amid lead 
pipes, beer glasses and batons. When my tflrn came to patrol 
the street, I took Ernst with me. "What is all this romantic 
brigandage about?’’ he asked me. I explained to him. "I know, 
I know,” he said, ^hut what do you think you are doing with 
your life?” ‘T am helping to prepare the Revolution,” I said 
cheerfully. "It doesn’t look like it,” he said. "Why?” "I don’t 
know,” he said doubtfully. "I know of course nothing about 
how revolutions are done. But the whole scene upstairs looked 
to me like a huddle of stragglers from a beaten army.” 

He was right; we thought of ourselves as the vanguard of 
the Revolution, and were the rearguard of the disintegrating 
workers’ movement. A few weeks later von Papen staged his 
coup detat: one lieutenant and eight men chased the Socialist 
government of Prussia from oflBce. The Socialist Party, with its 
eight million followers, did nothing. The Socialist-controlled 
Trade Unions did not even call a protest strike. Only we, the 
Communists, who a year earlier had joined hands with the 
Nazis against the same Prussian government and who kept 
repeating that the Socialists were the main enemy of the work- 
ing class — ^we now called for an immediate general strike. The 
call feU on deaf ears in the whole of Germany. Our verbiage 
had lost all real meaning for the masses, like inflated currency. 
And so we lost the battle against Hitler before it was joined. 
After July 20, 1982, it was evident to all but ourselves that the 
KPD, strongest among the Communist Parties in Europe, was 
a castrated giant whose brag and bluster only served to cover 
its lost virility. 

The day after the abortive General Strike, the Party Press 

Arthur Koestler 


aflBrmed that it had been a resounding victory: by calling for 
the strike in the face of Socialist iaaction, our Party had 
definitely unmasked the treachery of the Social Fascist leaders. 

A few months later everything was over. Years of conspira- 
torial training and preparation for the emergency proved 
within a few hours totally useless. The giant was swept off his 
feet and collapsed like a Carnival monster. Thahnann, leader 
of the Party, and the majority of his lieutenants were found in 
their carefully prepared hide-outs and arrested within the first 
few days. The Central Committee emigrated. The long night 
descended over Germany; today, seventeen years later, it has 
not yet ended. 

With Hitler in power, Thalmann in jail, thousands of Party 
members murdered and tens of thousands in concentration 
camps, the Comintern at last awoke to its responsibilities. 
The Party tribunals abroad and the GPU Collegia in the 
USSR sat in merciless judgment over “the enemy within'' — 
the bandits and agents of Fascism who murmured against the 
ofiBcial line, according to which the Socialist Party was the 
Enemy No. 1 of the German working class, and the Com- 
munist Party had suffered no defeat, but merely carried out a 
strategic retreat. 


As a rule, our memories romanticize the past. But when one 
has renounced a creed or been betrayed by a friend, the op- 
posite mechanism sets to work. In the light of that later knowl- 
edge, the original experience loses its innocence, becomes 
tainted and rancid in recollection. I have tried in these pages 
to recapture the mood in which the experiences related were 
originally lived— and I know that I have failed. Irony, anger 
and shame kept intruding; the passions of that time seem 
transformed into perversions, its inner certitude into the closed 
universe of the drug addict; the shadow of barbed wire lies 
across the condemned playground of memory. Those who were 
caught by the great illusion of our time, and have lived through 

56 Arthur Koestler 

its moral and intellectual debauch, either give themselves up 
to a new addiction of the opposite type, or are condemned to 
pay with a lifelong hangover. "They are the ambulant ceme- 
teries of their murdered friends; they carry their shrouds as 
their banner/’^ 

Hence the deep, instinctive resistance of the political dope 
addict to the cure. 


In the late summer of 1932 my Soviet visa was granted at 
last. I obtained it on the strength of an invitation from the 
International Organization of Revolutionary Writers to tour 
the country and write a book about it. This was to be called 
The Soviet Land Through Bourgeois Eyes. The idea was to 
describe how Mr. K., a bourgeois reporter with strong anti- 
Soviet prejudices, is gradually converted by seeing the results 
of Socialist Reconstruction during the first Five Year Plan, 
and ends as Comrade K. 

I left for the USSR six months before Hitler came to power 
in Germany, armed with a recommendation to Comrade 
Gopner, at that time head of the Agitprop, EKKI (Executive 
Committee of the Communist International), in Moscow. The 
EKKI, in its turn, provided me with a so-called "strong'" letter 
asking aU Soviet authorities to help me to accomplish my 
mission "as a delegate of the Revolutionary Proletarian Writers 
of Germany."' 

A letter of this kind carries in Soviet Russia the weight of 
a decree. It enabled me to travel unhampered all over the 
country without a guide, to obtain railway tickets without 
queuing, sleeping accommodations in government Guest 
Houses, and food in restaurants reserved for civil servants. It 
further enabled me to pay for my travels, with several thou- 
sand roubles left over at the end of my stay. The procedure 
was as follows. 

When I arrived in a provincial capital, say in Tiflis, I went 

* **Et le buisson devint cendre^ Manes Sperher: Paris, 1949. 

Arthur Koestler 


to the local Writers^ Federation, where I produced my Comin- 
tern letter. The Secretary of the Federation thereupon ar- 
ranged the usual banquets and meetings with the politica] 
leaders and members of the intelligentsia of the town, ap^ 
pointed somebody to look after me, and put me in touch with 
the editor of the local literary magazine and the director of 
the State Publishing Trust — ^in this case the Trust of the 
Georgian Soviet Republic. The editor of the magazine de- 
clared that it had been for many years his dearest wish to 
publish a story by me. I handed him a copy of a story pub- 
lished some time ago in Germany; and the same day a check 
for two or three thousand roubles was sent to my hotel. The 
director of the State Publishing Trust asked for the privilege 
of publishing a Georgian translation of the book I was going 
to write; I signed a printed agreement form and was sent 
another check for three or four thousand roubles. (The salary 
of the average wage-earner was at that time ISO roubles per 
month.) I thus sold the same short story to eight or ten dif- 
ferent literary magazines from Leningrad to Tashkent, and 
sold the Russian, German, Ukrainian, Georgian and Armenian 
rights of my unwritten book against advance payments which 
amounted to a small fortune. And as I did all this with oflScial 
encouragement, and as other writers did the same, I could 
wholeheartedly confirm that Soviet Russia was the writer’s 
paradise and that nowhere else in the world was the creative 
artist better paid or held in higher esteem. Human nature 
being what it is, it never occurred to me that my contracts and 
cash advances had been granted not on the strength of my 
literary reputation, but for reasons of a difiFerent nature. 

At that time I had not published a single book; my name 
was completely unknown to those who paid ready cash for a 
story they had not read and a book that was not written. They 
were civil servants, acting on instructions. In a country where 
all publications are State-owned, editors, publishers and liter- 
ary critics become ipso facto part of the Givil Service. They 
will make or break a writer according to orders received: the 

58 Arthur Koestler 

publishers, by printing vast editions of his new book or by 
pulping all his previous works; the critics, by calling him a 
new Tolstoy or a depraved cosmopolitan vermin, or both 
within an interval of a few months. 

The average visiting foreign author knows little about all this; 
and the little which his intuition makes him guess, his vanity 
will quickly make him forget. The people whom he meets at 
banquets and parties seem to know his works by heart; he would 
have to be a masochist, with a touch of peisecution mania, to 
assume that they have been specially briefed for the occasion. 
The Central State Publishing Trust offers him a contract for 
his next book and an advance covering the royalties on a sale 
of 150,000 copies. If he is very honest, the honored guest will 
mention with a blush that this is about fifteen times the number 
of copies on whose expected sale the cash advances of well- 
known European writers are calculated. But that, the director 
points out to him with a smile, is the practice of capitalist 
publishers. In the Soviet Union all publishing enterprises are 
owned by the People, and the average Soviet citizen buys 
231.57 per cent more books than the average American; at 
the end of the second Five Year Plan this quotient will reach 
and outstrip 365 per cent. So it is only natural that honored 
writers in the Soviet Union, instead of living in garrets as in 
capitalist countries, own two-room flats with a lavatory all 
their own, not to mention motorcars and summer datshas. 
Our visitor is slightly nettled by being suspected of living in 
a garret; but this, he reassures himself, is petty-bourgeois 
vanity. He signs the contract and a few days later leaves for 
home, where he wiU declare that nowhere else in the world 
is the creative artist held m higher esteem, etc., etc. Though 
he can’t take his roubles with him, as they are not convertible 
into foreign currency, he can buy some quite decent Bokhara 
carpets and leave the rest in the State Bank in Moscow; it is 
a pleasant feeling to have a nest egg in the Socialist sixth of 
the earth. In exceptional cases the State Publishing Trust is 
even authorized to convert part of the sum into the author’s 

Arthur Koestler 


home currency and to send it to him in monthly installments, 

I know of two famous exiled German authors in France who 
for years drew monthly royalty checks of this kind, though 
one of them never had a book published in Russia. Both were 
passionate and lucid critics of democratic corruption; neither 
of them has ever written a word of criticism against the 
Soviet Regime. I do not mean that they have been bribed; 
we are not concerned here with such crude machinations, 
but with the dialectics of the unconscious — ^with that subtle 
inner voice which whispers that in the capitalist world pub- 
lishers are sharks who don^t care a damn what you write as 
long as your books sell, whereas your Soviet publishers are 
the Soviet People, justifiably resentful of any criticism of their 
free country. 

Russia is indeed the artist’s Paradise — ^but alas a Paradise 
of forbidden trees guarded by peak-capped angels with flam- 
ing swords. 


I stayed in the Soviet Union for one year, half of which I 
spent traveling, the other half in Kharkov and Moscow, writ- 
ing my book. A German edition of it was actually published 
in Kharkov, under a changed title.** The Russian, Georgian, 
Armenian, etc. editions have, as far as I know, never seen the 

My travels led me through the industrial centers along the 
Volga; then southward through the Ukraine and across the 
Transcaucasian Republics — Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan 
— ^to Baku; across the Caspian and through the Central Asiatic 
Republics — ^Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — down to the 
Afghan frontier; then, via Tashkent and across Kazakstan, 
back to Moscow. What I saw and experienced came as a 
shock — ^but a shock with a delayed-action effect, as it were. 

* Von Weissen Nachten und Roten Tagen, UKRDERSHNAZMEN- 
WYDAW: Kharkov, 1934. (The abbreviation stands for “State Publish- 
ing Trust for the National Minorities in the Ukraine.”) 

60 Arthur Koestler 

My Party education had equipped my mind with such ela- 
borate shock-absorbing buflEers and elastic defenses that every- 
thing seen and heard became automatically transformed to 
fit the preconceived pattern, 

I spoke Russian fairly fluently but, though I traveled alone, 
I had little occasion to practice it on people other than official 
acquaintances; the ordinary Soviet citizen knows that to be 
seen talking to a foreigner is as unhealthy as touching a leper. 
Those who did talk to me, in restaurants and railway com- 
partments, used the stereotyped cliches of Pravda editorials; 
one might have thought they were reciting conversation pieces 
from a phrase-book. All this I registered with approval: it was 
a healthy sign of revolutionary discipline and Bolshevik 
vigilance. I saw the ravages of the famine of 1932-33 in the 
Ukraine: hordes of families in rags begging at the railway 
stations, the wornen lifting up to the compartment vnndow 
their starving brats which — ^with drumstick limbs, big cadav- 
erous heads, puffed bellies — ^looked like embryos out of al- 
cohol bottles; the old men with frost-bitten toes sticking out of 
tom slippers. I was told that these were kulaks who had 
resisted the collectivization of the land and I accepted the 
explanation; they were enemies of the people who preferred 
begging to work. The maid in the Hotel Regina in Kharkov 
fainted from hunger while doing my room; ihe manager ex- 
plained that she was fresh from the countryside and through a 
technical hitch had not yet been issued her ration cards; I 
accepted the technical hitch. 

I could not help noticing the Asiatic backwardness of life; 
the apathy of the crowds in the streets, tramways and railway 
stations; ^the incredible housing conditions which make all 
industrial towns appear one vast slum (two or three couples 
sharing one room divided by sheets hanging from washing 
lines); the starvation rations handed out by the co-operatives; 
or the fact that the price of one kilogram of butter on the free 
market equaled the average worker s monthly wage, the price 
of a pair of shoes two months' wages. But I had learned that 

Arthur Koestler 


facts had to be appreciated not on their face value, not in a 
static, but in a dynamic way. Living standards were low, but 
under the Czarist regime they had been even lower. The work- 
ing classes in the capitalist countries were better off than in the 
Soviet Union, but that was a static comparison; for here the 
level was steadily rising, there steadily falling. At the end of 
the second Five Year Plan the two levels would be equalized; 
until that time all comparisons were misleading and bad for 
the Soviet peoples morale. Accordingly, I not only accepted 
the famine as inevitable, but also the necessity of the ban on 
foreign travel, foreign newspapers and books, and the dis- 
semination of a grotesquely distorted picture of life in the 
capitalist world. At first I was shocked when after a lecture I 
was asked questions like these: ^When you left the bourgeois 
Press was your ration card -withdrawn and were you kicked 
out at once from your room?"' ‘What is the average number 
per day of French working class families starving to death 
(a) in rural areas (b) in Ae towns?" “By what means have 
our comrades in the West succeeded in temporarily staving 
off the war of intervention which the finance-capitalists are 
preparing with the aid of the Social Fascist traitors of the 
working class?" The questions were always painstakingly 
formulated in neo-Russian Djugashwilese. After a while I 
found them quite natural. There was always a small element 
of truth in them — ^this had, of course, been exaggerated and 
simplified according to the accepted technique of propaganda; 
but propaganda was indispensable for the survival of the 
Soviet Union, surrounded by a hostile world. 

The necessary lie, the necessary slander; the necessary in- 
timidation of the masses to preserve them from shortsighted 
errors; the necessary liquidation of oppositional groups and 
hostile classes; the necessary sacrifice of a whole generation 
in the interest of the next — ^it may aff sound monstrous and 
yet it was so easy to accept while rolling along the single 
track of faith. It had all happened before, in the history of 
the medieval churches, in Byzantium, in the hothouses of 


Arthur Koestler 

mystic sects; but the mental world of the drug addict is diflS- 
cult to explain to the outsider who has never entered the 
magic circle and never played Wonderland croquet with him- 


I left Soviet Russia in the autumn of 1933; yet I stayed in 
the Party for another four and a half years, until the early 
spring of 1938. My faith had been badly shaken, but thanks 
to the elastic shock-absorbers, I was slow in becoming con- 
scious of the damage. A number of external events and inner 
rationalizations helped me to carry on and delay the final 

The most important of these was the Seventh Congress of 
the Comintern in 1934, which inaugurated a new policy, a 
complete negation of the previous one — ^but to be put into 
effect, as always, by the same leadership. All revolutionary 
slogans, references to the class struggle and to the Dictator- 
ship of the Proletariat were in one sweep relegated to the 
lumber room. They were replaced by a brand new fa9ade, 
with geranium boxes in the windows, called "Popular Front 
for Peace and against Fascism.’^ Its doors were wide open to 
all men of good will — Socialists, Catholics, Conservatives, 
Nationalists. The notion that we had ever advocated revolu- 
tion and violence was to be ridiculed as a bogey refuted as a 
slander spread by reactionary war-mongers. We no longer 
referred to ourselves as "Bolsheviks,” nor even as Communists 
— ^the public use of the word was now rather frowned at in the 
Party — ^we were just simple, honest, peace-loving anti-Fascists 
and defenders of democracy. On Bastille Day, 1935, in the 
Salle Bullier in Paris, acclaimed by a delirious crowd of many 
thousands, the veteran Communist Party leader Marcel Cachin 
embraced the Social Fascist reptile Leon Blum and kissed 
him on both cheeks. Half of the audience cried, the other half 
sang the "Marseillaise” followed by the "Internationale.” At 
last, at last, the working class was united again. In the 1936 

Arthur Koestler 63 

elections in Spain and France, the Popular Front scored mas- 
sive victories. 

All this was of course a direct consequence of the change 
in Soviet foreign policy: of Russia’s entry into the League of 
Nations, the victory of the Litvinov line, the pact negotiations 
with France and Czechoslovakia. Again, in retrospect, one’s 
memories of the Popular Front days are tainted by 4e ulterior 
knowledge of the cynical insincerity behind the fagade, and 
of the bitter aftertnath. But while it lasted, the Popular Front 
had a strong emotional appeal and a fervent mystique as a 
mass-movement. For me, it was a second honeymoon with 
the Party. 

While I was in Russia, Hitler had come to power in Ger- 
many; so, in the autumn of 1933 I joined my Party friends in 
the Paris exile. The whole Red Block, with the exception of 
those caught by the Gestapo was now reassembled here, in 
the little hotels of the Left Bank. The next five years were for 
me years of near-starvation compensated by hectic political 
activity. Its center and motor was Willi Miinzenberg, head of 
the Agitprop for Western Europe and Germany. Ho was a 
short, stocky man of proletarian origin; a magnetic personality 
of immense driving power and a hard, seductive charm. He 
broke with the Commtem in 1938, six months after myself, and 
was murdered in the summer of 1940 under the usual lurid and 
mysterious circumstances; as usual in such cases, the mur- 
derers are unknown and there are only indirect clues, all point- 
ing in one direction like magnetic needles to the pole. 

Willi was the Red Eminence of the international anti- 
Fascist movement. He organized the Reichstag Counter-Trial 
— ^the public hearings in Paris and London in 1933, which first 
called the attention of the world to the monstrous happenings 
in the Third Reich. Then came the series of Brown Books, a 
flood of pamphlets and emigre newspapers which he financed 
and directed, though his name nowhere appeared. He pro- 
duced International Committees, Congresses and Movements 
as a conjurer produces rabbits out of his hat: the Committee 


Arthur Koestler 

for the Relief of the Victims of Fascism; Committees of Vigi- 
lance and Democratic Control; International Youth Congresses 
and so on. Each of these front organizations had a panel of 
highly respectable people, from English Duchesses to Amer- 
ican columnists and French savants, most of whom had never 
heard the name of Miinzenberg and thought that the Comin- 
tern was a bogey invented by Gobbels. 

After the change of the general line decreed by the Seventh 
Congress and the dawn of the Popular Fntnt, Willi's enter- 
prises became truly dazzling. He organized the Committee 
for Peace and against Fascism (the so-called Amsterdam- 
Pleyel Movement) presided over by Barbusse; the Writers' 
Organization for the Defense of Culture; the Committee of 
Inquiry into Alleged Breaches of the Non-Intervention Agree- 
ment on Spain; and a series of other international mushroom 
growths. He was a genius of organization, an inspired propa- 
gandist, and no more unscrupulous in his methods than one 
had to be if one wanted to maintain ones position amidst the 
poisoned intrigues in the Comintern. A biography of Willi 
Miinzenberg, if it should ever be written, would be one of the 
most revealing documents of the period between the two wars. 

I worked with Willi at the very beginning of the Paris exile, 
during the Reichstag Trial and Brown Book period; then again 
during the Spanish War, and finally in 1938, after his break 
with the Comintern, when we published together a non- 
Stalinite anti-Nazi paper, Die Zukunft. In between I worked 
as a free-lance journalist, edited a comic paper for the Party 
during the Saar Referendum campaign (it was closed down by 
the Party after the first number as being too frivolous); worked 
on the staff of a Home for children of Communist underground 
workers in Germany; then on a news agency run by Alex 
Rado (later on key-man of Soviet Military Intelligence in 
Switzerland, and after World War II liquidated in Russia); 
and for one feverish, hungry and happy year was a kind of 
managing editor of a set-up called INFA — Institut pour 
TEtude du Fasdstne. It was an anti-Fascist archive and research 

Arthur Koestler 


bureau, run by Party members and controlled, but not financed, 
by the Comintern. The idea was to create a center for serious 
study of the inner workings of Fascist regimes, independent of 
the mass-propaganda methods of the Miinzenberg enterprises. 
We were supported by donations from the French Trade 
Unions and from French intellectual and academic circles. We 
all worked unpaid, from ten to twelve hours a day; fortunately 
our premises, at 25, Rue Buffon, included a kitchen where 
every day at no^xi an enormous dish of thick pea soup was 
produced for the staff. For several weeks this was my only 
nourishment. At that time I lived in a hayloft in an open-air 
crank colony of pupils of Raymond Duncan in Meudon-Val 
Fleuri. This was the only place where I could sleep without 
paying rent, though it meant walking several miles a day to 
and from the office. 

Work is a potent drug; to make oneself feel that one is 
doing a useful job anonymously and wholeheartedly is the 
most effective way of bribing one’s conscience. The ignominies 
of the Djugashwili regime and of the Comintern machine 
faded into the background; the only thing that mattered was 
to fight against Nazism and the threatening war. I did not 
know that it was a shadow fight in which toe were the shadows. 

A second psychological factor helped me to carry on after 
my return from Russia. It was a conviction shared by the best 
among my friends who have now either left the Party or been 
liquidated. Though we wore blinkers, we were not blind, and 
even the most fanatical among us could not help noticing that 
all was not well in our movement. But we never tired of telling 
each other — and ourselves — ^that the Party could only be 
changed from inside, not from outside. You could resign from 
a club and from the ordinary sort of party if its policy no 
longer suited you; but the Communist Party was something 
entirely different: it was the vanguard of the Proletariat, the 
incarnation of the will of History itself. Once you stepped out 
of it you were extra muros and nothing which you said or did 
had the slightest chance of influencing its course. The only 


Arthur Koestler 

dialectically correct attitude was to remain inside, shut your 
mouth tight, swallow your bile and wait for the day when, 
after the defeat of the enemy and the victory of World Revo- 
lution, Russia and the Comintern were ready to become 
democratic institutions. Then and only then would the leaders 
be caUed to account for their actions: the avoidable defeats, 
the wanton sacrifices, the mud-stream of slander and denunci- 
ation, in which the pick of our comrades had perished. Until 
that day you had to play the game — confirm and deny, de- 
nounce and recant, eat your words and lick your vomit; it 
was the price you had to pay for being allowed to continue 
feeling useful, and thus keep your perverted self-respect. 


On July 18, 1936, General Franco staged his coup ditat, I 
went to see Willi and asked him to help me to join the Spanish 
Republican Army; this was before the International Brigades 
were formed. I had brought my passport along; it was a 
Hungarian passport. Willi looked at it absentmindedly; as an 
inveterate propagandist he was not enthusiastic about writers 
wasting their time digging trenches. In the passport was my 
press card as a Paris Correspondent of the Pester Lloyd. I had 
never written a word for the Pester Lloyd, but every self- 
respecting Hungarian emigre in Paris was equipped with a 
press card from one Budapest paper or another, to obtain 
occasional free theater and movie tickets. Willf s eyes suddenly 
brightened; he had an idea. 

'Why don't you rather make a trip to Franco's headquarters 
for the Pester LldydT^ he suggested. "Hungary is a semi- 
Fascist country; they will welcome you with open arms.” 

I too thought it was an excellent idea, but there were some 
hitches. Firstly, the Pester Lloyd would never agree to send- 
ing me; but then why bother to inform them of my going? In 
the muddle of a civil war, nobody was likely to take the 
trouble to check my accreditation. Secondly, other foreign 
correspondents might think it fishy that a poor Hungarian 

Arthur Koestler 


paper was sending a special correspondent to Spain. That 
difficulty too was overcome. I had friends on the News 
Chronicle in London; the News Chronicle was violently anti- 
Franco and stood no chance of having a staff correspondent 
of its own admitted to rebel territory; so the Foreign Editor 
gladly agreed that I should act as his special correspondent 
provided that I ever got into Franco Spain. 

I did get in, via Lisbon to Seville, but my sojourn was short. 
On the second day in Seville, which was then Franco's head- 
quarters, I was recognized and denounced as a Communist; 
but thanks to the incredible Spanish muddle, managed to get 
out in the nick of time via Gibraltar. Even during that short 
visit however, I had seen the German pilots and German air- 
planes of Franco's army; I published the facts in the News 
Chronicle and in a pamphlet, and thereby incurred the special 
hostility of the Franco regime. Accordingly, when I was cap- 
tured six months later, as a correspondent with the Republican 
Army, by Franco's troops, I was convinced that to be shot 
without unpleasant preliminaries was the best I could hope 

I spent four months in Spanish prisons, in Malaga and 
Seville, most of the time in solitary confinement and most of 
the time convinced that I was going to be shot. When, in 
June, 1937, thanks to the intervention of the British Govern- 
ment, I was unexpectedly set free, my hair had not grayed 
and my features had not changed and I had not developed 
religious mania; but I had made the acquaintance of a dif- 
ferent kind of reality, which had altered my outlook and 
values, and altered them so profoundly and unconsciously 
that during the first days of freedom I was not even aware of 
it. The experiences responsible for this change were fear, pity 
and a third one, more difficult to describe. Fear, not of death, 
but of torture and humiliation and the more unpleasant forms 
of dying — ^my companion of patio exercises, Garcia Atadell, 
was garroted shortly after my liberation. Pity for the little 
Andalusian and Catalan peasants whom I heard crying and 


Arthur Koestler 

calling for their madres when they were led out at night to 
face file firing squad; and finally, a condition of the mind 
usually referred to in terms borrowed from the vocabulary of 
mysticism, which would present itself at unexpected moments 
and induce a state of inner peace which I have known neither 
before nor since. 

The lesson taught by this type of experience, when put into 
words, always appears under the dowdy guise of perennial 
commonplaces: fiiat man is a reality, mankind an abstraction; 
that men cannot be treated as units in operations of political 
arithmetic because they behave like the symbols for zero and 
the infinite, which dislocate all mathematical operations; that 
the end justifies the means only within very narrow limits; 
that ethics is not a function of social utility, and charity not 
a petty-bourgeois sentiment but the gravitational force which 
keeps civilization in its orbit. Nothing can sound more flat- 
footed than such verbalizations of a knowledge which is not 
of a verbal nature; yet every single one of these trivial state- 
ments was incompatible with the Communist faith which I 


If this story were fiction, it would end here; the chief char- 
acter, having undergone a spiritual conversion, takes leave 
of his comrades of yesterday and goes his own way with a 
serene smile. But when I was liberated I did not know that 
I had ceased to be a Communist. The first thing I did after 
the Guardia Civil put me across the frontier at Gibraltar was 
to send a cable to the Party. It started with the line from 
Schiller ^"Seid UTUschlungen, Millionen^ — ^‘1 embrace thee, ye 
millions.’' And, even more strange, I added the words ‘am 
cmred of all belly-aches” — ^TbeUy-ache” being our slang expres- 
sion for qualms about the Party line. 

It was a short euphoria. I spent three quiet months with 
friends in England, writing a book on Spain; then, after a 
short trip to the Middle East for the News Chronicle^ which 

Arthur Koestler 

offered no points of friction with, the Party, the conflict began. 
There was nothing dramatic about it I made a lecture tour 
through England for the Left Book Club; whenever a ques- 
tioner, in the predominantly Communist audiences, asked for 
details about tiie treasonable activities of the POUM — an in- 
dependent Left-Wing splinter group of Trotskyite leanings in 
Spain, whom the Party accused of being ^agents of Franco’' — 
I answered that their fractional policy might be bad for the 
cause, but that they were certainly not traitors. Surprisingly 
enough, I got away with that; the British CP was notoriously 
lax in denouncing deviations to higher quarters. 

Then I learned that, in the Russian mass-pmrges, my brother- 
in-law and two of my closest friends had been arrested. My 
brother-in-law. Dr. Ernst Ascher, was a doctor who worked at a 
State hospital in the Volga German Republic. Though a mem- 
ber of the German CP, he was politically naive and indifferent. 
The accusation against him, as I later learned, was that he was 
a saboteur who had injected syphilis into his patients,^ that he 
had demoralized the people by pretending that venereal 
diseases were incurable, and thirdly, as a matter of course, 
that he was the agent of a foreign power. He has never been 
heard of since his arrest twelve years ago. 

The other two were Alex Weissberg and his wife Eva. For 
reasons which will appear later, I have to tell their story in 
some detail. Alex, a physicist, was employed at the Ukrainian 
Institute for Physics and Technology (UFTI); I had known 
them both for many years and had stayed with them in 
Kharkov. When I left Russia, in 1933, Alex had seen me to the 
train; his farewell words had been: ^Whatever happens, hold 
the banner of the Soviet Union high." He was arrested in 1937 
on the charge ( as I learned much later) of having hired twenty 
bandits to ambush Stalin and Kaganovitch on their next hunt- 
ing trip in the Caucasus. He refused to sign a confession, was 
kept in various prisons for three years, then, after the Ribben- 

® Cf. the charge against Jagoda, former head of the OGPU, and three 
physicians that mey had poisoned Maxim Gorky by quicksilver fumes. 


Arthur Koestler 

trop-Molotov Pact, was handed over by the GPU to the Ges- 
tapo, in 1940, at Brest Litovsk, together with a hundred-odd 
other Austrian, German and Hungarian Communists. (Among 
them Grete Neumann Buber, wife of the German Communist 
leader Heinz Neumann and sister-in-law of Willi Miinzenberg, 
and the physicist Fiesl Hautermans, a former assistant of Pro- 
fessor Blackett.) He survived the Gestapo, took part in the 
Warsaw Revolt, and has written a book which will shortly be 
available to Enghsh readers. ^ 

Alex’ wife Eva, was a ceramist; she was arrested about a 
year before Alex and was at first accused of having inserted 
swastikas into the pattern on the teacups which she designed 
for mass-production; then, of having hidden under her bed two 
pistols which were to serve to kill Stalin at the next Party 
Congress. She spent eighteen months in the Lubianka, where 
the GPU tried to brief her as a repentant sinner for the 
Bukharin show-trial. She cut her veins, was saved, and was 
released shortly afterwards thanks to the extraordinary exer- 
tions of the Austrian Consul in Moscow, who happened to be 
a friend of her mother. 

I met Eva after she had been released and expelled from 
Russia, in the spring of 1938. Her experiences in Russian 
prisons, and particularly of the GPU’s methods of obtaining 
confessions, provided me with part of the material for Darkness 
at Noon. I promised her to do what I could to save Alex. 
Albert Einstein had already intervened on his behalf; so I 
wrote a carefully worded cable to Stalin, for which I obtained 
the signatures of the three French Nobel Prize physicists, 
Perrin, Langevin and JoHot-Curie. The cable, a copy of which 
was sent to State Attorney Vishinsky, requested that the 
charges against Weissberg, if any, be made public, and that 
he be given a public trial. It is characteristic that although 
both Langevin and Joliot-Curie were Soviet sympathizers 
who shortly afterward became members of the Party, they 
obviously did not set great store by the methods of Soviet 
justice — ^for, though they had never heard of Alex before, and 

Arthur Koestler 


knew me only slightly, they at once took it for granted that 
he was innocent. The cable was also signed by Polanyi in 
Manchester; the only prominent physicist whom I approached 
and who refused to sign was Professor Blackett. I mention 
this fact because Blackett did his best to save his former 
assistant, Hautermans, a close friend of Weissberg's, He was 
probably afraid that, by signing two protests, he might spoil 
the chance of saving at least one victim from the mortal em- 
brace of the Socialist Fatherland. 

The moral of this story is that Johot-Curie, Blackett, and the 
rest of our nuclear Marxists cannot claim starry-eyed ignorance 
of the goings-on in Russia. They know in detail the case-history 
of at least these two of their colleagues, both loyal servants of 
the Soviet Union, arrested on grotesque charges, held for 
years without trial, and delivered to the Gestapo. They further 
know that these cases are not exceptional; reliable, second- 
hand reports of hundreds of similar cases in Russian academic 
circles are available to them. And the same is true of all Com- 
munists or fellow-traveling authors, journalists and other intel- 
lectuals. Every single one of us knows of at least one friend 
who perished in the Arctic subcontinent of forced labor camps, 
was shot as a spy or vanished without trace. How our voices 
boomed with righteous indignation, denouncing flaws in the 
procedure of justice in our comfortable democracies; and how 
silent we were when our comrades, without trial or conviction, 
were liquidated in the Socialist sixth of the earth. Each of us 
carries a skeleton in the cupboard of his conscience; added 
together they would form galleries of bones more labyrinthine 
than the Paris catacombs. 

At no time and in no country have more revolutionaries 
been killed and reduced to slavery than in Soviet Russia. To 
one who himself for seven years found excuses for every stu- 
pidity and crime committed under the Marxist banner, the 
spectacle of these dialectical tight-rope acts of self-deception, 
performed by men of good will and intelligence, is more dis- 
heartening than the barbarities committed by the simple in 

Arthur Koestler 


spirit Having experienced the almost unlimited possibilities 
of mental acrobatism on that tight-rope stretched across one's 
conscience, I know how much stretching it takes to make that 
elastic rope snap. 

About the time when I learned of Alex' arrest, a comrade 
escaped to Paris from Germany where he had served a term of 
five years’ hard labor. Before his arrest, he had worked for a 
certain branch of the Apparat whose leaders had meanwhile 
been liquidated as spies. So, without being given a hearing, 
without a chance of defending himself, my friend and his wife 
were denounced as agents of the Gestapo, and their photo- 
graphs were printed in the Party Press accompanied by a 
warning not to have any truck with tliem. Such cases I had 
heard of before; I had shrugged fliem off and continued on 
the tight-rope. Now these two individuals had become more 
real to me than the cause in the name of which they were to be 
sacrificed, and I took their side.^ 

The Party did not react. While I had been in jail, they had 
used me as a martyr for propaganda purposes; some time must 
be allowed to lapse before I could be denounced as an agent 
of Franco and the Mikado. 

The end came as a curious anticlimax. Some time during the 
spring of 1938, I had to give a talk on Spain to the German 
Emigre Writers' Association in Paris. Before the talk, a repre- 
sentative of the Party asked me to insert a passage denouncing 
the POUM as agents of Franco; I refused. He shrugged, and 
asked me whether I would care to show him the text of my 
speech and “to discuss it informany." I refused. The meeting 
took place in the hall of the Societe des Industries Frangaises 
in the Place St. Germain des Pres, before an audience of two 
or three hundred refugee intellectuals, half of them Commu- 
nists. I knew it was my last public appearance as a member of 
the Party. The theme of the speech was the situation in Spain; 

® They have now entered on a new existence, under a different name, 
in a British Dominion. Incidentally, it was this girl who was caught out 
by the Gestapo on the word “concrete.'^ 

Arthur Koestler 73 

it contained not a single word of criticism of the Party or of 
Russia. But it contained three phrases, deliberately chosen 
because to normal people they were platitudes, to Communists 
a declaration of war. The first was: “No movement, party or 
person can claim the privilege of infallibility.’" The second was: 
“Appeasing the enemy is as foolish as persecuting the friend 
who pursues your own aim by a different road.” The third was 
a quotation from Thomas Mann: “A harmful truth is better 
than a useful lie*” 

That settled it. When I had finished, the non-Communist 
half of the audience applauded, the Communist half sat in 
heavy silence, most of them with folded arms. This was not 
done by order, but as a spontaneous reaction to those fatal 
commonplaces. You might as well have told a Nazi audience 
that all men are bom equal regardless of race and creed. 

A few days later I wrote my letter of resignation to the Cen- 
tral Committee of the Party. 


This is the second occasion where the story should end; 
and yet there was a second anticlimax. My letter was a fare- 
well to the German CP, the Comintern and the Djugashwili 
regime. But it ended with a declaration of loyalty to tlie Soviet 
Union. I stated my opposition to the system, to the cancerous 
growth of the bureaucracy, the suppression of civil liberties. 
But I professed my belief that the foundations of the Workers 
and Peasants State had remained unshaken, that the national- 
ization of the means of production was a guarantee of her 
eventual return to the road of Socialism; and that, in spite of 
everything, the Soviet Union still “represented our last and 
only hope on a planet in rapid decay.” 

The tight-rope had snapped, but there was a safety net 
spread under it. When I landed there, I found myself in a 
mixed company — ^veteran acrobats who had lost their dialec- 
tical balance, Trotskyites, critical sympathizers, independent 
“cryptos,” new statesmen, new republicans, totalitarian liberals 

74 Arthur Koestler 

and so on — ^who were sprawling in the net in various con- 
torted positions. We were all hellishly uncomfortable, sus- 
pended in no mans land, but at least we did not have to 
regard ourselves as completely fallen angels. I remained in 
that state of suspended animation until the day when the 
swastika was hoisted on Moscow Airport in honor of Ribben- 
trop's arrival and the Red Army band broke into the Horst 
Wessel Lied. That was the end; from then onward I no longer 
cared whether Hitler s allies called me a counter-revolutionary. 

Elsewhere I have tried to expose “the fallacy of the unshaken 
foundations,’^^ the belief that a State-capitalist economy must 
of necessity lead to a Socialist regime. I shall not repeat the 
argument; I have only mentioned this epilogue to my Party 
days, my clinging to the last shred of the tom illusion, because 
it was typical of that intellectual cowardice which still pre- 
vails on the Left. The addiction to the Soviet myth is as 
tenacious and diJBScult to cure as any other addiction. After the 
Lost Weekend in Utopia the temptation is strong to have just 
one last drop, even if watered down and sold under a different 
label. And there is always a supply of new labels on the Comin- 
form’s black market in ideals. They deal in slogans as boot- 
leggers deal in faked spirits; and tibe more innocent the cus- 
tomer, the more easily he becomes a victim of the ideological 
hooch sold under the trade-mark of Peace, Democracy, Prog- 
ress or what you will. 


I served the Communist Party for seven years — ^the same 
length of time as Jacob tended Laban s sheep to win Rachel 
his daughter. When the time was up, the bride was led into his 
dark tent; only the next morning did he discover that his 
ardors had been spent not on the lovely Rachel but on the 
ugly Leah. 

I wonder whether he ever recovered from the shock of 

^ The Yogi and the Commissar, New York: The Macmillan Company, 

Arthur Koesfler 75 

having slept with an illusion. I wonder whether afterwards he 
believed that he had ever believed in it. I wonder whether the 
happy end of the legend will be repeated; for at the price of 
another seven years of labor, Jacob was given Rachel too, and 
the illusion became flesh. 

And the seven years seemed unto him but a few days, for 
the love he had for her. 

Ignazio Silone 

BiOGEAPmcAL NOiTi: Ignazio Silone was born on May 1, 1900, 
at Pescina dei Marsi, a village in the Abruzzi Apennines. His 
father was a small landowner, his mother a weaver. During 
the First World War, at the age of seventeen, he was appointed 
secretary of the land workers for the Abruzzi district, and had 
to appear in court for having organized a violent demonstra- 
tion against the war. In 1921, he took part in the foundation 
of the Italian Communist Party; he edited the weekly Avan- 
guardia of Rome and the Lavoratore, a daily of Trieste. He 
remained in Italy even after the enforcement of the special 
laws against opponents of Fascism, printing illegal news- 
papers. In 19S0, aper having been imprisoned in and expelled 
pom various European countries, he settled down in Switzer- 
land, where he remained till 1944, when he returned to Italy, 
He had lep the Communist Party in 1930. Ten years later, in 
1940, he accepted the direction of the Foreign Center of the 
Italian Socialist Party, for which he formulated the political 
platform of the *'Third Fronts 
Bibliography: Fontamara, novel, 1930; Bread and Wine, 
novel, 1937; The School for Dictators, dialogues, 1938; The 
Seed beneath the Snow, novel, 1940; And He did Hide Him- 
self, play, 1944. 

That evening in November, immediately after the promulga- 
tion of the “special laws,” several of us escaped arrest by taking 
refuge in a little villa in a suburb of Milan, recently rented 


Ignazio Silone T7 

by one of our comrades who was masquerading as a painter. 
In the working-class quarters the streets were deserted, 
the taverns closed or silent, the houses in darkness. This 
gave the damp, cold time of the year an atmosphere of 
gloom. The police, in full war order, were carrying out a series 
of raids on suspected blocks of houses, as if they were enemy 
strong-points. The number of people arrested was already 
very considerable and was growing day by day as more names 
and addresses cajne to light, either as the result of these raids, 
or of denunciations by spies and agents provocateurs, or of 
statements from the feebler people arrested, who had not been 
able to stand up to threats or torture. 

Much the same was happening in other cities and provinces. 
The newspapers which could still be published (those in open 
opposition had been suppressed just about that time) had 
been ordered not to mention the arrests, and to report, instead, 
the tributes to the Italian dictatorship which eminent repre- 
sentatives of democracy and liberalism in other countries had 
been expressing. But reports based on the information which 
the three or four Party couriers coEected from our local repre- 
sentatives in the most important areas, and brought to the 
central underground offices, left no doubt that the dictatorship 
intended to exterminate every trace of opposition. The Com- 
munists alone possessed a clandestine organization of any 
efficiency. But in various provinces the police, sometimes not 
realizing it themselves, had already by their raids destroyed 
our network of communications. Numerous comrades who had 
escaped arrest came in asking us for a permanent refuge in a 
city other than their own, and for false documents to enable 
them to travel and to make a fresh start. 

Those of us who had been living under false names for some 
time — Chiding otir illegal activities under some banal or inno- 
cent cloak — ^were now in a much more advantageous position. 
But we were none too safe, either, as betrayal or carelessness 
on the part of anyone who had been arrested might at any time 
give the police a clue and put them on our tracks. So that 
evening I, too, had suddenly been warned not to return home. 

78 Ignazio Silone 

because it looked as if the police were picketing the house. 
With others in the same condition, we had found temporary 
refuge in the pretended painter s little country villa. After 
putting a man on guard near by and arranging what to do if 
surprised by the police, we resigned ourselves to spending the 
night on chairs, as the little house was very sparsely furnished 
and had only one bed. With the bogus painter and his wife, we 
had a bogus Spanish tourist, a bogus dentist, a bogus architect 
and a German girl, a bogus student. We had already known 
each other for a couple of years; but, up to that day, our rela- 
tions had been entirely confined to technical collaboration in 
various branches of the illegal organization; we had not yet 
had the time or opportunity to become friends. At most we 
knew each other’s social origins and family situation, because 
of the inevitable repercussions these things have m the com- 
plicated circumstances of life outside the law. Why, then, did 
that evening’s casual encounter make such a deep impression 
on my memory? 

The dentist happened to remark: 

"I passed La Scala this afternoon. There was a big crowd 
queuing up to buy tickets for the next concert. I stopped a 
while to look at them and got the clear impression of a pro- 
cession of madmen.” 

^Why madmen?” asked the Spanish tourist. “Is music mad- 
ness, in your opinion?” 

“Not in normal circumstances,” admitted the dentist. “But 
in times like these, how can people amuse themselves with 
music? They must really be maniacs.” 

“Music isn’t always a mere amusement,” observed the Span- 
ish tourist. 

“If the music maniacs could see us now, and hear who we 
are and what we’re doing,” added the painter, “they in their 
turn would almost certainly consider us mad. It isn’t so easy to 
discover who the really mad people are; that’s one of the most 
difficult of sciences.” 

The dentist did not like the turn the conversation was taking. 

Ignazio Silone 79 

“One can t risk one's life and liberty as we are doing/' he 
replied severely, “and then reason like someone who's above 
the struggle/' 

^Tou can throw yourself into the struggle/' replied the 
painter, “and kick and hit out at your opponent, but it’s not 
absolutely necessary to butt him. Isn't it better to reserve your 
head for other uses?” 

“Isn't our struggle a struggle of ideas?” asked the Spanish 
tourist. “Doesn'ii it involve your head?” 

“It involves my head, of course, but not my eyes,” the 
painter explained with a smile. “In otlier words,” he added, 
“I’d like to go on seeing things with my own eyes.” 

“I don’t understand,” declared the dentist. “The risk you 
run by staying with us seems to me very much out of pro- 
portion to the small amount of work you do.” 

There was an embarrassing pause. Through the window we 
could see three trucks full of militiamen passing on the main 
road. Our hostess closed the shutters and gave us some excel- 
lent coflEee. 

“In our era aU roads lead to Communism,” said the Spanish 
tourist, to restore harmony among his comrades. “But we can't 
all be Communists in the same way.” 

“I've staked my life on the Proletarian Revolution,” explained 
the painter. “If I haven’t staked my eyes as well, it's only to 
reserve myself the right of seeing what happens to my life. 
But the life itself is already staked. In the same way, to put 
it more clearly, a dear school friend of mine has become a 
nun, and staked her life on Paradise. On the heavenly Paradise, 
I mean, not to be confused with ours. I can assure you I shan't 
withdraw my stake. Why should I? No one has the right to 
doubt my honor.” 

“But the Proletarian Revolution,” the dentist commented 
severely, “isn't a game of chance.” 

“I know perfectly well,” explained the painter, “that winning 
the game doesn’t depend on chance, but on the strength 
and skill of the players, and on everything else one reads 

80 Ignazio Silone 

about in the manuals of our Party schools. And thafs why 
Im taking part, not only as a gambler, but as a player too; as 
a player who is entirely wrapped up in the game and has 
staked himself. Entirely, I say, except for the eyes.” 

‘1 don’t understand,” declared the dentist. 

^‘In short, I refuse to blindfold myself,” the painter con- 
cluded. 'I’ll do absolutely everything you expect me to do, but 
with my eyes open.” 

"All right,” said the Spanish tourist in his turn, ‘l)ut I don’t 
understand if you are really interested in what you are 
gambling on. Forgive the question, but, in other circumstances, 
mightn’t you have gambled on something completely different, 
war, for instance, exploring the South Pole, tending lepers, 
the white-slave traffic, or forging money?” 

"Why not?” the other replied, laughing. "But in all these 
possible professions of mine, I would certainly have tried to 
keep my eyes open. I’d have tried to understand.” 

"One’s born a Communist,” declared the German girl. 

"But one becomes a man,” commented the painter. 

"Well,” the dentist asked him, "could you teU us what the 
circumstances are which led you to put your stake on Com- 

"That would be a long story,” the other replied gravely. 
"And some things, to be frank, would be incomprehensible to 

"TeU us your long incomprehensible story,” insisted the 
German girl. "We’U drink coffee and keep awake to listen to 

"And wiU you aU teU your stories too?” the painter asked 
us with a smile. 

“Agreed,” said the dentist, "and We’U aU keep awake and 
drink coffee.” 

"Think about it seriously before you begin,” the painter 
warned us. "It may be dangerous for you to look backward. It 
may be dangerous for anyone m the thick of the struggle, 
myself included, to analyze the Vhys’ and the 'wherefores,’ 

Ignazio Silone 81 

to look back. At a certain moment, the game is set and rien ne 
va 'plus. You can't leave off dancing in the middle of the 

"But can one separate the struggle,” said the Spanish tourist, 
"from the motives that have led one into it? Is it dangerous 
to remind oneself of the motives which have led one to Com- 

"The night is long,” said the German girl. "Let’s tell our 
incomprehensible stories. We’U drink coffee and keep our- 
selves awake.” 

So we spent that night trying to explain to each other how 
and why we had become Communists. The explanations were 
anything but exhaustive; but by morning we had all become 
friends. "It’s really true,” we said to each other as we separated, 
"that any road can lead to Communism nowadays.” 

Next year the bogus dentist was arrested; he was tortured, 
refused to denounce his collaborators and died in prison. The 
bogus painter went on carrying out his political duties until 
the fall of Fascism and the end of the war; I think he after- 
ward retired into private life. Nothing more was heard of the 
German girl. 

I often thought later about the confidences shared during 
that meeting. By then the imperious necessity of understand- 
ing, of realizing, of comparing the development of the action 
in which I was engaged with the motives which had originally 
led me into it, had taken entire possession of me and left me 
no more peace. And if my poor hteraiy work has any mean- 
ing, in the ultimate analysis, it consists of this: a time came 
when writing meant, for me, an absolute necessity to testify, 
an urgent need to free myself from an obsession, to state the 
meaning and define the limits of a painful but decisive break, 
and of a vaster allegiance that stiU continues. For me writing 
has not been, and never could be, except in a few favored 
moments of grace, a serene aesthetic enjoyment, but rather the 
painful and lonely continuation of a struggle. As for the diffi- 
culties and imperfections of self-expression with which I some- 

82 Ignazio Silone 

times have to wrestle, they arise, not from lack of observation 
of the rules of good writing, but rather from a conscience 
which, while struggling to heal certain hidden and perhaps 
incurable wounds, continues obstinately to demand that its 
integrity be respected. For to be sincere is obviously not 
enough, if one wants to be truthful. 


At the foundation congress of the Italian Communist Party 
(Leghorn, 1921) I brought with me the adherence of the 
greater part of the Socialist Youth, to which I had belonged 
since 1917. Our attitude, as far back as the war years, had 
been so strongly critical of reformist Social Democracy that 
our adherence aroused no surprise. 

That November evening in Milan, when I wanted to explain 
to my friends why, at the age of seventeen and still a schoolboy, 
I had adhered to the Socialism of Zimmerwald, I had to go 
back, in my memory, step by step, to the beginning of my 
adolescence; I even had to mention episodes of my childhood, 
to rediscover the very earliest origins of a view of society 
which, as it later on assumed a political form, was bound to 
reveal itself as radical. At the age of seventeen, and in time of 
war, one does not join a revolutionary movement which is 
persecuted by the government, unless one^s motives are serious. 

I grew up in a mountainous district of southern Italy. The 
phenomenon which most impressed me, when I arrived at the 
age of reason, was the violent contrast, the incomprehensible, 
absurd, monstrous contrast between family and private life — 
in the main decent, honest, and well-conducted — and social 
relations, which were very often crude and fuU of hatred and 
deceit. Many terrifying stories are known of the misery and 
desperation of the southern provinces (I have told some my- 
self), but I do not intend to refer now to events that catised 
a stir, so much as to the little occurrences of daily life. It was 
these commonplace minor events that showed up the strange 
double existence of the people among whom I grew up, the 

Ignazio Silone 83 

observation of which was one of the agonizing secrets of my 

I was a child just five years old when, one Sunday, while 
crossing the little square of my native village with my mother 
leading me by the hand, I witnessed the cruel, stupid spectacle 
of one of the local gentry setting his great dog at a poor 
woman, a seamstress, who was just coming out of church. The 
wretched woman was flung to the ground, badly mauled, and 
her dress was toln to ribbons. Indignation in the village was 
general, but silent. I have never understood how the poor 
woman ever got the unhappy idea of taking proceedings 
against the squire; but the only result was to add a mockery 
of justice to the harm already done. Although, I must repeat, 
everybody pitied her and many people helped her secretly, the 
unfortunate woman could not find a single witness prepared 
to give evidence before the magistrate, nor a lawyer to con- 
duct the prosecution. On the other hand, the squire^s sup- 
posedly Left-Wing lawyer turned up punctually, and so did a 
number of bribed witnesses who perjured themselves by giving 
a grotesque version of what had happened, and accusing the 
woman of having provoked the dog. The magistrate — a most 
worthy, honest person in private life — acquitted the squire 
and condemned the poor woman to pay the costs. 

“It went very much against the grain with me,"' he excused 
himself a few days later at our house. “On my word of honor, 
I do assure you, I was very sorry about it. But even if I had been 
present at the disgusting incident as a private citizen and 
couldn't have avoided blaming him, stiU as a judge I had to go 
by the evidence of the case, and unfortunately it was in favor 
of the dog." “A real judge," he used to love to say, senten- 
tiously, “must be able to conceal his own egoistic feelings, and 
be impartial." “Really, you know," my mother used to com- 
ment, “it’s a horrible profession. Better to keep ourselves to our- 
selves at home. My son," she used to say to me, “when you’re 
grown up, be whatever you like, but not a judge." 

I can remember other typical little incidents like that of 

84 Ignazio Silone 

the squire, the dog, and the seamstress. But I should not 
like to suggest, by quoting such episodes, that we were ignor- 
ant of the sacred concepts of Justice and Truth or that we held 
them in contempt On the contrary; at school, in church, and 
at public celebrations they were often discussed with elo- 
quence and veneration, but in rather abstract terms. To define 
our curious situation more exactly, I should add that it was 
based on a deception of which all of us, even tlie children, 
were aware; and yet it still persisted, bein^ built on some- 
thing quite apart from the ignorance and stupidity of in- 

I remember a lively discussion one day in my catechism 
class between the boys who were being prepared for con- 
firmation and the parish priest The subject was a marionette 
show at which we boys had been present with the priest the 
day before. It was about the dramatic adventures of a child 
who was persecuted by the devil. At one point the child- 
marionette had appeared on the stage trembling with fear and, 
to escape the devil who was searching for him, had hidden 
under a bed in a comer of the stage; shortly afterward the 
devil-marionette arrived and looked for him in vain. "‘But he 
must be here,'^ said the devil-marionette. ‘T can smell him. 
Now rU ask these good people in the audience.""" And he turned 
to us and asked: “My dear children, have you by any chance 
seen that naughty child Im looking for, hiding anywhere?"’ 
“No, no, no,” we all chomsed at once, as energetically as pos- 
sible. “Where is he then? I can’t see him,” the devil insisted. 
“He’s left, he’s gone away,” we all shouted. “He’s gone to 
Lisbon.” (In our part of Italy, Lisbon is still the furthermost 
point of the globe, even today.) I should add that none of 
us, when we went to the theater, had expected to be ques- 
tioned by a devil-marionette; our behavior was therefore 
entirely instinctive and spontaneous. And I imagine that chil- 
dren in any other part of the world would have reacted in the 
same way. But our parish priest, a most worthy, cultured and 
pious person, was not altogether pleased. We had told a lie, 

Ignazio Silone 85 

he warned us with a worried look. We had told it for good 
ends, of course, but still it remained a lie. One must never teU 
lies. "Not even to the devil?’' we asked in surprise, "A lie is 
always a sin,” the priest replied. "Even to the magistrate?” 
asked one of the boys. The priest rebuked him severely. "Im 
here to teach you Christian doctrine and not to talk nonsense. 
What happens outside the church is no concern of mine.” And 
he began to explain the doctrine about truth and lies in general 
in the most eloquent language. But that day the question of 
lies in general was of no interest to us children; we wanted to 
know, "Ought we to have told the devil where the child was 
hiding, yes or no?” "That’s not the point,” the poor priest kept 
repeating to us rather uneasily. "A lie is always a lie. It might 
be a big sin, a medium sin, an average sort of sin, or a little tiny 
sin, but it’s always a sin. Truth must be honored.” 

"The truth is,” we said, "that there was the devil on one side 
and the child on the other. We wanted to help the child, that’s 
the real truth.” "But you’ve told a lie,” the parish priest kept 
on repeating. "For good ends, I know, but still a lie.” To end it, 
I put forward an objection of unheard-of perfidy, and, con- 
sidering my age, considerable precocity: "If it’d been a priest 
instead of a child,” I asked, "what ought we to have replied 
to the devil?” The parish priest blushed, avoided a reply, and, 
as a punishment for my impertinence, made me spend the rest 
of the lesson on my knees beside him. "Are you sorry?” he 
asked me at the end of the lesson. "Of course,” I replied, "If the 
devil asks me for your address. I’ll give it to him at once.” 

It was certainly unusual for a discussion in such terms to take 
place in a catechism class, although free discussion was quite 
frequent in our family circle and among our friends. But this 
intellectual liveliness did not even create a stir in the humfiiat- 
ing and primitive stagnation of our social life. 


Some time earlier the so-called democratic system had, how- 
ever, introduced a new technical detail into the relations be- 

86 Ignazio Sihne 

tween citizen and State. This was the secret vote, which though 
not in itself enough to change things radically, sometimes pro- 
duced results which were surprising, and, as far as public order 
was concerned, scandalous. Though these incidents were iso- 
lated and had no immediate sequel, they were none the less 

I was seven years old when the first election campaign, 
which I can remember, took place in my district. At that time 
we still had no political parties, so the announcement of this 
campaign was received vuth very little interest. But popular 
feeling ran high when it was disclosed that one of the candi- 
dates was "the Prince.” There was no need to add Christian 
and surname to realize which Prince was meant. He was the 
owner of the great estate formed by the arbitrary occupation 
of the vast tracts of land reclaimed in the previous century 
from the Lake of Fucino. About eight thousand families (that 
is, the majority of the local population) are still employed 
today in cultivating the estate’s fourteen thousand hectares. 
The Prince was deigning to solicit ^liis” families for their 
vote so that he could become their deputy in parliament. The 
agents of the estate, who were working for the Prince, talked 
in impeccably liberal phrases: "Naturally,” said they, "natu- 
rally, no one will be forced to vote for the Prince, that’s under- 
stood; in the same way that no one, naturally, can force the 
Prince to allow people who don’t vote for him to work on his 
land. This is the period of real liberty for everybody; you’re 
free, and so is the Prince.” The announcement of these “liberal” 
principles produced general and understandable consternation 
among the peasants. For, as may easily be guessed, the Prince 
was the most hated person in our part of the country. As long 
as he remained in the invisible Olympus of the great feudal 
proprietor (none of the eight thousand tenants had seen him, 
up to then, even from afar) public hatred for him was allowed, 
and belonged to the same category as curses against hostile 
deities; such curses, though useless, are satisfying. But now the 
clouds were being rent, and the Prince was coming down 

Ignazio Silone 87 

within reach of mortal men. From now on, consequently, they 
would have to keep their expressions of hatred within the 
narrow circle of private life and get ready to welcome him 
with due honors in the village streets. 

My father seemed reluctant to accept this kind of logic. He 
was the youngest of several brothers, all of them peasant pro- 
prietors; the youngest, the most restless, and the only one with 
any inclinations toward insubordination. One evening his 
older brothers cahie and urged him, in the common interest, to 
be prudent and careful. For me (to whom no one paid any 
attention, for grown-ups think that children don’t understand 
such things) it was a most instructive evening. "The Prince 
being a candidate is a real farce,” the eldest brother admitted. 
"Political candidatures should be reserved for lawyers and 
other such windbags. But as the Prince is a candidate, all we 
can do is support him,” "If the Prince’s candidature is a 
farce,” replied my father, "I don’t understand why we should 
support him.” "Because we’re his dependents, as you know 
perfectly well.” "Not in politics,” said my father. "In politics 
we’re free.” "We don’t cultivate politics, we cultivate the land,” 
they answered him. "As cultivators of the land we depend on 
the Prince,” "There’s no mention of politics in our contracts 
for the land, only of potatoes and beetroots. As voters we’re 
free.” "The Prince’s bailiff will also be free not to renew our 
contracts,” they answered him. "That’s why we’re forced to 
be on his side.” "I can’t vote for someone merely because I’m 
forced to,” said my father. "I’d feel humiliated.” "No one will 
know how you vote,” they answered him. "In the secrecy of 
the polling booth you can vote as you like, freely. But during 
the electioneering campaign we must be on the Prince’s side, 
all of us together.” "I’d be pleased to do it if I wasn’t ashamed 
to,” said my father, ‘hut, do believe me, I’d be too much 
ashamed.” To settle it, my uncles and my father reached this 
compromise: he would not come out either on the Prince’s 
side or against him. 

The Prince’s election tour was prepared by the civil 

88 Ignazio Silone 

authorities, the police, the carabineers, and the agents of 
the estate. One Sunday, the Prince deigned to pass through 
the principal villages in the constituency, without stopping 
and without making any speeches. This tour of his was re- 
membered for a long time in our district, mainly because he 
made it in a motorcar, and it was the first time we had seen 
one. The word "motorcar’"' itself had not yet found a place in 
our everyday language, and the peasants called it a ‘liorseless 
carriage." Strange legends were current afiiong the people 
about the invisible motive force which took the place of the 
horses, about the diabolical speed which the new vehicle 
could reach, and about the ruinous effect, particularly on the 
vines, of the stink it left behind it. That Sunday the entire 
population of the village had gone to meet the Prince on the 
road by which he was due to arrive. There were numerous 
visible signs of the collective admiration and affection for the 
Prince. The crowds were dressed up in their best, and were in 
a perfectly understandable state of excitement. The "'liorseless 
carriage" arrived late, and roared through the crowd and the 
village, without stopping and without even slowing down, 
leaving a thick white dust cloud behind it. The Prince’s agents 
then explained, to anyone who cared to listen, that the "liorse- 
less carriage" went by "petrol vapor” and could only stop 
when the petrol had finished. "It isn’t like horses," they ex- 
plained, "where all one need do is to pull on the reins. There 
aren’t any reins at all. Did you notice any reins?" 

Two days later a strange little old man arrived from Rome; 
he wore glasses, and had a black stick and a small suitcase. 
Nobody knew him. He said he was an ocuUst and had put him- 
self up as candidate against the Prince. A few people gathered 
round him out of curiosity, mainly children and women, who 
had not the right to vote. I was among the children, in my 
short trousers and with my schoolbooks under my arm. We 
begged the old man to make a speech. He said to us: "Remind 
your parents that the vote is secret. Nothing else." Then he 
said, "I am poor; I live by being an oculist; but if any of you 


Ignazio Silone 

have anything wrong with your eyes Im willing to treat them 
for nothing/’ So we brought him an old woman who sold 
vegetables. She had bad eyes, and he cleaned them up and 
gave her a little phial with drops in it and explained how to 
use it. Then he said to us (we were only a group of children) : 
"Remind your parents that the vote is secret/’ and he went 
away. But the Prince’s election was so certain, to judge by the 
festive throngs which had welcomed him during his elec- 
tioneering tour,*^that the authorities and the agents of the 
estate had announced in advance a whole program for the 
celebration of the inevitable victory. My father, according to 
the agreement with his brothers, did not side with either 
candidate, but managed to get himself included among the 
scrutineers of the ballot-papers. Great was everybody’s sur- 
prise when it became known that in the secrecy of the polling 
booths an enormous majority had voted against the Prince 
and for the unknown oculist. It was a great scandal; the 
authorities called it sheer treachery. But the treachery was of 
such proportions that the agents of the estate could not take 
any reprisals against anyone. 

After this, social life went back to normal. Nobody asked 
himself: Why can the will of the people only express itself 
sporadically? Why can it not become a permanent and stable 
basis for the reorganization of public life? And yet, it 
would be incorrect to conclude, from a false interpretation 
of the episode I have just recorded, that the major obstacle 
was fear. Our people have never been cowardly or spineless 
or weak. On the contrary; the rigors of the climate, the heavi- 
ness of the work, the harsh conditions of the struggle for 
existence, have made them into one of the toughest, hardest, 
and most enduring peoples in the whole of Italy. So much so, 
that there are fewer references in our local annals to political 
surprises resulting from the secret vote than there are to 
revolts, localized and shortlived, but violent, destructive and 
almost savage. These humiliated and downtrodden people 

90 Ignazio Silone 

could endure the worst abuses without complaint, but then 
they would break out on unforeseen occasions. 

My native village, at the period to which I am now referring, 
had some five thousand inhabitants, and public order was in 
the keeping of about twenty carabineers, commanded by a 
lieutenant. This excessive number of police is in itself reveal- 
ing. There was not much sympathy between the soldiers and 
the carabineers during the First World War, because the 
latter were on duty in the rear areas, and some of them, it 
was said, took too much interest in the wives and fiancees of 
the men at the front. In small places, rumors of this kind are 
immediately given a very exact personal application. So it 
happened one evening that three soldiers, home from the 
front on short leave, had a quarrel with some carabineers and 
were arrested by them. This action was ridiculous and ungal- 
lant to begin with, but it became absolutely monstrous when 
the commanding officer of the carabineers canceled the three 
soldiers’' leave and sent them back to the front. I was a close 
friend of one of them (he was killed in the war afterward), 
and his old mother came sobbing to me to tell me about the 
affair. I begged the mayor, the magistrate and the parish priest 
to intervene, but they all declared it was outside their prov- 
ince. T[f that’s the way things are,” I said, "there’s nothing 
for it but revolutionr We have always used this fateful his- 
torical term, in our dialect, in order to describe a mere violent 
demonstration. In those wartime years, for example, two 
"revolutions” had already taken place in my native village, 
the first against the town council because of bread rationing, 
the second against the church because the seat of the bishopric 
had been transferred to another township. The third, which 
I am about to describe, went down in history as "the revolu- 
tion of the three soldiers.” The men were to be escorted to 
the train at five o’clock, so the revolution was arranged for 
half an hour earlier, in front of the barracks. Unfortunately 
it took a more serious turn than had been intended. It began 
as a joke, which three of us boys were bold enough to start. 


Ignazio Silone 

One of us, at the agreed moment, went up the bell-tower and 
began hammering away at the great bell, the signal in our 
part of the country denoting a serious fire or other public 
danger. The other two went off to meet the peasants to ex- 
plain what was happening. Alarmed by the ringing of the 
tocsin, they had at once stopped working in the fields, and 
were hurrying anxiously toward the village. 

In a few minutes a threatening and tumultuous crowd had 
collected in front of the barracks. They began by shouting 
abuse, then they threw stones, and finally shots were fired. 
The siege of the barracks lasted until late at night. Rage had 
made my fellow-villagers unrecognizable. In the end, the 
windows and gates of the barracks were broken open; the 
carabineers fled across the orchards and fields under cover of 
darkness; and the three soldiers, whom everyone had for- 
gotten, went back to their homes unobserved. So we boys 
found ourselves absolute masters of the place for an entire 
night. "Now what are we going to do?’' the other boys asked 
me. (My authority came, mainly, from the fact that I knew 
Latin.) "Tomorrow morning,” I said, "the village is sure to 
be reoccupied by hundreds and hundreds of armed men, 
carabineers and police, who’ll arrive from Avezzano, Sulmona, 
Aquila, and perhaps even from Rome.” "But what are we 
going to do tonight, before they arrive?” the other boys in- 
sisted. "Obviously one night is not enough to create a new 
order of things,” I said, thinking I had guessed what they 
were after. "Couldn’t we take advantage of the fact that the 
whole vfllage is asleep, to make Socialism?” 

That was what the other boys wanted me to suggest. Per- 
haps they were still overexcited from their riotous evening; 
perhaps they really believed that anything was possible now. 
"I don’t think,” I said, "I honestly don’t think that, even if 
the whole village is asleep, one can make Socialism in a single 
night” I must mention in my own justification that at that 
time the theory of Socialism overnight had not yet been pro- 
pounded. "One night, though, might be enough to sleep in 

92 Ignazio Silone 

one^s own bed before going to prison ” one of the others 
finally suggested. And as we were tired, we all found this 
advice both sensible and acceptable. 

Such episodes of violence — ^with their inevitable sequel of 
mass arrests, trials, legal expenses, and prison sentences — 
reinforced distrust, diffidence, and skepticism in the peasants' 
minds. For them, the State became the irremediable creation 
of the devil. A good Christian, if he wanted to save his soul, 
should avoid, as far as possible, all contactf> with the State. 
The State always stands for swindling, intrigue and privilege, 
and could not stand for anything else. Neither law nor force 
can change it. If retribution occasionally catches up with it, 
this can only be by the dispensation of Gk)d. 


In 1915 an earthquake of exceptional violence destroyed a 
large part of our province and kiUed, in thirty seconds, about 
fifty thousand people. I was surprised to see how much my 
feUow-villagers took this appalling catastrophe as a matter 
of course. The geologists' complicated explanations, reported 
in the newspapers, aroused their contempt. In a district like 
ours, where so many injustices go unpunished, people regarded 
the recurrent earthquakes as a phenomenon requiring no 
further explanation. In fact, it was astonishing that earth- 
quakes were not more frequent. An earthquake buries rich 
and poor, learned and illiterate, authorities and subjects alike 
beneath its ruined houses. Here lies, moreover, the real 
explanation of the Italians' weU-known powers of endurance 
when faced with the cataclysms of nature. An earthquake 
achieves what the law promises but does not in practice main- 
tain — ^the equality of all men. A neighbor of ours, a woman 
who kept a bakery, lay buried, but not hurt, for several days 
after the earthquake, when her house was completely de- 
stroyed. Not realizing that the disaster was general, and 
imagining that it was only her own house which had fallen 
down, either because of some defect in its construction or 
because someone had put a curse on it, the poor woman was 

Ignazio Silone 93 

greatly distressed; so much so that when a rescue party 
wanted to drag her out of the ruins she absolutely refused. 
She calmed down, however, and quickly regained her strength 
and her wish to live and to rebuild her house, the moment 
she was told there had been an earthquake and that an enor- 
mous number of other houses had collapsed as well. 

What seemed to the poor people of our part of the world 
a much more serious calamity than any natural cataclysm was 
what happened nper the earthquake. The State reconstruction 
program was carried out to the accompaniment of innumerable 
intrigues, frauds, thefts, swindles, embezzlements, and dis- 
honesty of every kind. An acquaintance of mine, who had 
been sacked by one of the government departments concerned, 
gave me some information of this sort about certain criminal 
acts which were being committed by the head engineers of the 
department. Impressed rather than surprised, I hastened to 
pass on the facts to some persons in authority, whom I knew 
to be upright and honest, so that they could denounce the 
criminals. Far from denying the truth of what I told them, 
my honorable friends were in a position to confirm it. But, 
even then, they advised me not to get mixed up in it or to 
get worked up, in my simplicity, about things of that kind. 
"‘YouTe young," they said to me affectionately, "you must 
finish your studies, youVe got your career to think of, you 
shouldnT compromise yourself with things that don t con- 
cern you." "Of course," I said, "it would be better for the de- 
nunciation to come from grown-up people like yourselves, 
people with authority, rather than from a boy of seventeen." 

They were horrified. ‘We are not madmen," they answered. 
‘We shall mind our own business and nobody else^s." 

I then talked the matter over with some reverend priests, 
and then with some of my more coxnrageous relations. AU of 
them, while admitting that they were already aware of the 
shameful things that were happening, begged me not to get 
mixed up in that hornets^ nest, but to think of my studies, of my 
career, and of my future. "With pleasure," I replied, "but isn*t 
one of you ready to denounce the thieves?" "We are not mad- 

94 Ignazio Silone 

men/' they replied, scandalized, ‘"these things have nothing 
to do with us." 

I then began to wonder seriously whether it mightn't be 
a good thing to organize, together with some other boys, 
a new "revolution" that would end up with a good bonfire of 
the corrupt engineers' offices; but I was dissuaded by the 
acquaintance who had given me the proof of their crooked 
dealings: a bonfire, he pointed out, would destroy the proofs 
of the crimes. He was older and more experienced than myself; 
he suggested I should get the denunciation printed in some 
newspaper. But which newspaper? "‘There's only one," he ex- 
plained, “which could have any interest in publishing your 
denunciation, and that's the Socialist paper." So I set to work 
and wrote three articles, the first of my life, giving a detailed 
exposure of the corrupt behavior of State engineers in my 
part of the country, and sent them off to Amnti. The first 
two were printed at once and aroused much comment among 
the readers of the paper, but none at all among the authorities. 
The third article did not appear, because, as I learned later, 
a leading Socialist intervened with the editorial staff. This 
showed me that the system of deception and fraud oppressing 
us was much vaster than at first appeared, and that its invisible 
ramifications extended even into Socialism. However, the 
partial denunciation which had appeared unexpectedly in the 
press contained enough material for a number of law-suits, or 
at least for a board of enquiry; but nothing happened. The en- 
gineers, whom I had denounced as thieves and bandits and 
against whom quite specific charges had been leveled, did 
not even attempt to justify themselves or to issue a general 
denial. There was a short period of expectancy, and then 
everyone went back to his own affairs. 


The student who had dared to throw down the challenge 
was considered, by the most charitably-minded, an impulsive 
and strange boy. One must remember that the economic 


Ignazio Silone 

poverty of the southern provinces oJEers small scope for a 
career to the youths leaving school by the thousand every year. 
Our only important industry is State employment. This does 
not require exceptional intelligence, merely a docile disposition 
and a readiness to toe the line in pohtics. The young men of 
the South, who have grown up in die atmosphere I have briefly 
described, tend naturally, if they have a minimum of sensitive- 
ness in human relationships, toward anarchy and rebellion. 
For those stiE Oa the threshold of youth, to become a civil 
servant means renunciation, capitulation, and the mortification 
of their souls. That is why people say: anarchists at twenty, 
conservatives at thirty. Nor is the education imparted in the 
schools, whether public or private, designed to strengthen 
character. Most of the later years of my school-life I spent in 
private Catholic institutions. Latin and Greek were excellently 
taught there; the education in private or personal habits was 
simple and clean; but civic instruction and training were 
deplorable. Our history teachers were openly critical of the 
official views; the mythology of the Risorgimento and its heroes 
(Mazzini, Garibaldi, Victor Emmanuel II, Cavour) were the 
objects of derision and disparagement; the literature prevalent 
at the time (Carducci, D’Annunzio) was despised. 

Insofar as this method of teaching developed the pupils’ 
critical spirit, it had its advantages. But the same priestly 
schoolmasters, since they had to prepare us for the State 
school examinations — and the fame and prosperity of their 
academies depended on the results we achieved — also taught 
us, and recommended us to uphold in our examinations, the 
points of view completely opposed to their own convictions. 
Meanwhile, the State examiners, who knew we came from 
confessional schools, enjoyed questioning us on the most con- 
troversial subjects, and then praising us ironically for the 
liberal and unprejudiced way in which we had been taught. 
The falseness, hypocrisy, and double-facedness of aU this 
were so blatant that they could not but perturb anyone with 
the slightest inborn respect for culture. But it was equally 

96 Ignazio Silone 

inevitable tbat the average unfortunate student ended by con- 
sidering diplomas, and his future job in a government office, 
as the supreme realities of life. 


^People ^vho are bom in this district are really out of luck,’* 
Dr. F. }., a doctor in a village near mine, used to say. ‘‘There’s 
no halfway house here; you Ve got either to rebel or become 
an accomplice.” He rebelled. He declared himcelf an anarchist. 
He made Tolstoyan speeches to the poor. He was the scandal 
of the entire neighborhood, loathed by the rich, despised by 
the poor, and secretly pitied by a few. His post as panel-doctor 
was finally taken away from him, and he literally died of 


I realize that the progress which I have been tracing 
in these pages is too summary to seem anything but strained. 
And if I touch on this objection now, it is not to refute it or to 
swear to the absolute truth of my explanations; I can guar- 
antee their sincerity, not their objectivity. I am myself some- 
times astonished to find, when I go back over that remote, 
almost prehistoric, period of our lives with my contemporaries, 
how they cannot remember at all, or only very vaguely, in- 
cidents which had a decisive influence on me; whereas on 
the contrary, they can clearly recall other circumstances which 
to me were pointless and insignificant. Are tliey, these con- 
temporaries of mine, all ‘unconscious accomplices”? And by 
what destiny or virtue does one, at a certain age, make the 
important choice, and become “accomplice” or “rebel”? From 
what source do some people derive their spontaneous intoler- 
ance of injustice, even though the injustice affects only 
others? And that sudden feeling of guilt at sitting down to 
a well-laden table, when others are having to go hungry? And 
that pride which makes poverty and prison preferable to 

Igmzio Silone 97 

I don’t know. Perhaps no one knows. At a certain point, 
even the fullest and deepest confession becomes a mere state- 
ment of fact and not an answer. Anyone who has reflected 
seriously about himself or others knows how profoundly secret 
are certain decisions, how mysterious and unaccountable cer- 
tain vocations. 

There was a point in my rebellion where hatred and love 
coincided; both the facts which justified my indignation and 
the moral motives which demanded it stemmed directly from 
the district where I was bom. This explains, too, why every- 
thing I have happened to write up to now, and probably 
everything I shall ever write, although I have traveled and 
lived abroad, is concerned solely with this same district, or 
more precisely with the part of it which can be seen from the 
house where I was bom — ^not more than thirty or forty kilo- 
meters on one side or the other. It is a district, like the rest of 
the Abmzzi, poor in secular history, and almost entirely 
Christian and medieval in its formation. The only buildings 
worthy of note are churches and monasteries. Its only illustri- 
ous sons for many centuries have been saints and stone-carvers. 
The conditions of human existence have always been particu- 
larly difficult there; pain has always been accepted there as 
first among the laws of nature, and the Cross welcomed and 
honored because of it. Franciscanism and anarchy have always 
been the two most accessible forms of rebellion for lively 
spirits in our part of the world. The ashes of skepticism have 
never suffocated, in the hearts of those who suffered most, the 
ancient hope of the Kingdom of God on earth, the old expecta- 
tion of charity taking the place of law, the old dream of 
Gioacchino da Fiore, of the "Spirituali,” of the Gelestimisto.^ 
And this is a fact of enormous, fundamental importance; in a 
disappointed, arid, exhausted, weary country such as ours, it 
constitutes real riches, it is a miraculous reserve. The politi- 

^ Followers of Pope Celestine V, an Abruzzi hermit who, elected Pope 
in August, 1294, ^dicated three and a half months later. He was 
canonized in 13lk 

95 Ignazio Silone 

cians are unaware of its existence, the clergy are afraid of it; 
only the saints, perhaps, know where to find it What for us has 
always been much more difficult, if not impossible, has been 
to discern the ways and means to a political revolution, hie et 
nunc^ to the creation of a free and ordered society. 

I thought I had reached this discovery, when I moved to 
the town and made my first contact with the workers^ move- 
ment. It was a kind of flight, a safety exit from unbearable 
solitude, the sighting of terra firmay the discovery of a new 
continent But it was not easy to reconcile a spirit in moral 
mutiny against an unacceptable long-established social reality 
with the ^scientific” demands of a minutely codified political 

For me to join the Party of Proletarian Revolution was not 
just a simple matter of signing up with a political organiza- 
tion; it meant a conversion, a complete dedication. Those 
were still the days when to declare oneself a Socialist or a 
Communist was equivalent to throwing oneself to the winds, 
and meant breaking with one^s parents and not finding a job. 
If the material consequences were harsh and hard, the diffi- 
culties of spiritual adaptation were no less painful. My own 
internal world, the "Middle Ages,” which I had inherited and 
which were rooted in my soul, and from which, in the last 
analysis, I had derived my initial aspiration to revolt, were 
shaken to their foundations, as though by an earthquake. 
Everything was thrown into the melting-pot, everything be- 
came a problem. Life, death, love, good, evil, truth, all 
changed their meaning or lost it altogether. It is easy enough 
to court danger when one is no longer alone; but who can 
describe the dismay of once and for all renouncing one’s 
faith in the individual immortality of the soul? It was too 
serious for me to be able to discuss it with anyone; my Party 
comrades would have found it a subject for mockery, and 
I no longer had any other friends. So, unknown to anyone, 
the whole world took on a different aspect. How men are to 
ibe pitiedi 

Ignazio Sihne 99 

The conditions of life imposed on the Communists by the 
Fascist conquest of the State were very hard. But they also 
served to confirm some of the Communists’ political theses, 
and provided an opportunity to create a type of organization 
which was in no way incompatible with the Communist 
mentality. So I too had to adapt myself, for a number of 
years, to living like a foreigner in my own country. One had 
to change one’s name, abandon every former link with family 
and friends, and live a false life to remove any suspicion of 
conspiratorial activity. The Party became family, school, 
church, barracks; the world that lay beyond it was to be 
destroyed and built anew. The psychological mechanism 
whereby each single militant becomes progressively identified 
with the collective organization is the same as that used 
in certain religious orders and military colleges, with almost 
identical results. Every sacrifice was welcomed as a personal 
contribution to the "price of collective redemption”; and it 
should be emphasized that the links which bound us to the 
Party grew steadily firmer, not in spite of the dangers and 
sacrifices involved, but because of them. This explains the 
attraction exercised by Communism on certain categories of 
young men and of women, on intellectuals, and on the highly 
sensitive and generous people who suffer most from the waste- 
fulness of bourgeois society. Anyone who thinks he can wean 
the best and most serious-minded young people away from 
Communism by enticing them into a well-warmed hall to 
play billiards, starts from an extremely limited and unintel- 
ligent conception of mankind. 


It is not surprising that the first internal crises which shook 
the Communist International left me more or less indifferent 
These crises originated from the fact that the main parties 
which had adhered to the new International, even after the 
formal acceptance of the twenty-one conditions laid down 
by Lenin to govern admission, were far from homogeneous. 

100 Ignazio Silone 

They had in common a hatred of imperialist war and of its 
results; they united in criticizing the reformist ideas of the 
Second International; but, as to the rest, for good or ill, each 
reflected its own country’s unequal degree of historical devel- 
opment. That is why there were notable differences of opinion 
between Russian Bolshevism, formed in an atmosphere in 
which political liberty and a differentiated social structure 
were both alien concepts, and the Left-Wing Socialist groups 
of the Western countries. The history of the Communist Inter- 
national was therefore a history of schisms, a history of 
intrigues and of arrogance on the part of the directing Russian 
group toward every independent expression of opinion by the 
other affiliated parties. One after another, they were forced to 
break with the Communist International: the currents most 
attached to democratic and parliamentary forms (Frossard), 
the groups most attached to legality and most opposed to 
attempts at coups detat (Paul Levi), the libertarian elements 
who deluded themselves about Soviet Democracy (Roland- 
Holst), the revolutionary trade-unionists who opposed the 
bureaucratic submission of the trade unions to the Communist 
Party (Pierre Monatte, Andres Nin), the groups most reluctant 
to break off all collaboration with Social Democracy (Brandier, 
Bringolf, Tasca), and the extreme Left Wing which was in- 
tolerant of any opportunist move (Bordiga, Ruth Fischer, 
Boris Souvarine). 

These internal crises took place in a sphere far removed 
from my own and so I was not involved. I do not say this 
boastfully; on the contrary, I am merely trying to explain the 
situation. The increasing degeneration of the Communist In- 
ternational into a tyranny and a bureaucracy filled me with 
repulsion and disgust, but there were some compelling reasons 
which made me hesitate to break with it; solidarity with com- 
rades who were dead or in prison, the nonexistence at that 
tune of any other organized anti-Fascist force in Italy, the 
rapid political, and in some cases also moral, degeneration 
of many who had already left Communism, and finally the 

Ignazio Silone 101 

illusion that the International might be made healthy again 
by the proletariat of the West, in the event of some crisis 
occurring within the Soviet regime. 

Between 1921 and 1927, I had repeated occasion to go to 
Moscow and take part, as a member of Italian Communist 
delegations, in a number of congresses and meetings of the 
Executive. What struck me most about the Russian Com- 
munists, even in such really exceptional personalities as Lenin 
and Trotsky, was their utter incapacity to be fair in discussing 
opinions that conflicted with their own. The adversary, simply 
for daring to contradict, at once became a traitor, an oppor- 
tunist, a hireling. An adversary in good faith is inconceivable 
to the Russian Communists. What an aberration of conscience 
this is, for so-called materialists and rationalists absolutely in 
their polemics to uphold the primacy of morals over intelli- 
gence! To And a comparable infatuation one has to go back to 
the Inquisition. 

Just as I was leaving Moscow, in 1922, Alexandra KoUontaj 
said to me: "If you happen to read in the papers that Lenin 
has had me arrested for stealing the silver spoons in the 
Kremlin, that simply means that Im not entirely in agreement 
with him about some little problem of agricultural or in- 
dustrial policy." KoUontaj had acquired her sense of irony 
in the West and so only used it with people from the West. 
But even then, in those feverish years of building the new 
regime, when the new orthodoxy had not yet taken complete 
possession of cultural life, how difiScult it was to reach an 
understanding with a Russian Communist on the simplest, 
and for us most obvious, questions; how difficult, I don't say 
to agree, but at least to understand each other, when talking 
of what liberty means for a man of the West, even for a 
worker, I spent hours one day trying to explain to one of the 
directors of the State publishing house, why she ought at 
least to be ashamed of the atmosphere of discouragement 
and intimidation in which Soviet writers lived. She could not 
understand what I was trying to tell her. 

102 Ignazio Silone 

"‘Liberty ’^ — 1 bad to give examples — **is the possibility of 
doubting, the possibility of making a mistake, the possibility 
of searching and experimenting, the possibility of saying W 
to any authority— Hterary, artistic, philosophic, religious, 
social, and even political ” “But that,’^ murmured this eminent 
functionary of Soviet culture in horror, “that is counter-revo- 
lution."^ Then she added, to get a little of her own back, “Were 
glad we haven’t got your liberty, but we ve got the sanatoria 
in exchange/’ When I observed that the expression “in ex- 
change” had no meaning, ‘liberty not being merchandise that 
could be exchanged,” and that I had seen sanatoria in other 
countries, she laughed in my face. “You’re in the mood for 
joking with me today,” she said to me. And I was so taken 
aback by her candor that I no longer dared to contradict 

The spectacle of the enthusiasm of Russian youth in those 
first years of the creation of a new world, which we all hoped 
would be more humane than the old one, was utterly con- 
vincing. And what a bitter disillusionment it was, as the years 
went by and the new regime strengthened itself and its 
economic system got into shape and the armed attacks from 
abroad ceased, to see the long-promised ultimate democratiza- 
tion failing to come, and, instead, the dictatorship accentuat- 
ing its repressive character. 

One of my best friends, the head of the Russian Communist 
Youth, Lazar Schatzky, one evening confided to me how sad 
he was to have been bom too late, and not to have taken 
part either in the 1905 or the 1917 Revolutions. “But there’ll 
still be revolutions,” I said to console him, “therell always 
be need of revolutions, even in Russia.” We were in the Red 
Square, not far from the tomb of Lenin. “What kind?” he 
wanted to know. “And how long have we got to wait?” Then 
I pointed to the tomb, which was still made of wood at that 
time, and before which we used every day to see an intermina- 
ble procession of poor ragged peasants slowly filing. 

“I presume you love I^nin,” I said to him. “I knew him 


Ignazio Silone 

too and have a very vivid recollection of him. You must admit 
with me that this superstitious cult of his mummy is an insult 
to his memory and a disgrace to a revolutionary city like 
Moscow."' I suggested to him, in short, that we should get 
hold of a tin or two of petrol and make a ‘little revolution” 
on our own, by burning the totem-hut. I did not, to be frank, 
expect him to accept my proposal there and then, but at least 
I drought he would laugh about it; instead of which my poor 
friend went ve?y pale and began to tremble violently. Then 
he begged me not to say dreadful things of that kind, either 
to him or still less to oAers. (Ten years later, when he was 
being searched for as an accomplice of Zinoviev, he com- 
mitted suicide by throwing himself from the fifth floor of the 
house he lived in.) I have been present at the march post of 
immense parades of people and armies in the Red Square, 
but, in my mind, the recollection of that young friend's 
emotion and of his frightened and affectionate voice, has 
remained stronger than any other image. It may be that that 
memory is “objectively” more important. 

It is not easy to trace the history of the Communist Inter- 
national, and it would be undoubtedly premature. How can 
one separate the fatuous from the essential in the interminable 
discussions at its congresses and meetings? What speeches 
should be left to the mice in the archives to criticize, and 
which should be recommended to intelligent people anxious 
to understand? I do not know. What my memory prefers to 
recall may to some people seem only bizarre. They were dis- 
cussing one day, in a special commission of the Executive, the 
ultimatum issued by the central committee of the British trade 
unions, ordering its local branches not to support the Com- 
munist-led minority movement, on pain of expulsion. After the 
representative of the English Communist Party had explained 
the serious disadvantages of both solutions — ^because one meant 
the hquidation of the minority movement and the other die 
exit of the minority from the Trades Unions — ^the Russian 
delegate Piatnisky put forward a suggestion which seemed 

104 Ignazio Silone 

as obvious to him as Columbus" egg. “The branches,” he sug* 
gested, “should declare that they submit to the discipline 
demanded, and then, in practice, should do exactly the 
contrary.” The English Communist interrupted, “But that 
would be a lie.” Loud laughter greeted this ingenuous ob- 
jection, franh, cordial, interminable laughter, the like of which 
the gloomy oflBces of the Communist International had per- 
haps never heard before. The joke quickly spread all over 
Moscow, for the Englishmans entertaining*' and incredible 
reply was telephoned at once to Stalin and to the most im- 
portant oflBces of State, provoking new waves of mirth every- 
where. The general hilarity gave the English Communist's 
timid, ingenuous objection its true meaning. And that is why, 
in my memory, the storm of laughter aroused by that short, 
almost childishly simple little expression — “But that would 
be a lie” — outweighs all the long, heavy oppressive speeches 
I heard during sittings of the Communist International, and 
has become a kind of symbol for me. 

My visits to Moscow, as I have already said, were few, 
and limited to my functions as a member of the Italian Com- 
munist delegations. I have never been part of the organization 
of the Communist International, but I could follow its rapid 
corruption by observing a few acquaintances of mine who 
belonged to it. Among diem, an outstanding example was the 
Frenchman Jacques Doriot. I had met him for the first time 
in Moscow in 1921; he was then a modest, willing and senti- 
mental young working-man, and it was for his obvious docility 
and easy-going nature that he was chosen for the international 
organization in preference to other young French Communists, 
who were more intelligent and better educated than himself, 
but also less conventional. He hved up fully to expectation. 
Year by year, he became an increasingly important figure in 
the hierarchy of International Communism, and, year by year, 
each time I came across him, I found him changed for the 
worse, skeptical, cynical, unscrupulous, and rapidly becoming 
Fascist in his political attitude toward men and the State. If I 

Ignazio Silone 105 

could triumph over my natural repugnance and write a 
biography of Jacques Doriot, my theme would be: “Militant 
Communist into Fascist/' 

Once I met Doriot in Moscow, just after his return from a 
poHtical mission in China. He gave a few friends and myself 
a disturbing account of the mistakes of the Communist Inter- 
national in the Far East. The next day, however, speaking 
before the Executive in full session, he affirmed the exact 
opposite. “It wal! an act of political wisdom," he confided to 
me after the meeting with a slight and superior smile. His 
case is worth mentioning because it was not isolated. Internal 
changes in French Communism later led Jacques Doriot to 
leave the Communist International, and gave him a chance 
to show himself openly in what had already been, for a long 
time, his true colors; but many others, who basically are no 
different from Doriot, have remained at tlie head of Com- 
munist Parties. Pahniro Togliatti, the Italian, referred to this 
phenomenon of duplicity and demoralization among the per- 
sonnel of the Communist International in his speech before 
its Sixth Congress, and asked permission to repeat the words 
of the dying Goethe: “Light, more light." 

In a certain sense, that speech was Togliatti's swan-song; for 
another year or two he kept up the effort to follow his inmost 
promptings and to reconcile being a Communist with speaking 
his mind frankly, but, in the end, even he had to capitulate 
and submit. 

Besides internal differences resulting from its own hetero- 
geneous composition, the Communist International felt the re- 
percussions of every difficulty of the Soviet State. After Lenin's 
death, it was clear that the Soviet State could not avoid what 
seems to be the destiny of every dictatorship: the gradual 
and inexorable narrowing of its political pyramid. The Russian 
Communist Party, which had suppressed all rival parties and 
abolished any possibility of general political discussion in the 
Soviet assembhes, itself suffered a similar fate, and its mem- 
bers' political views were rapidly ousted by the pohcy of the 

106 Ignazio Silone 

Party macliine. From that moment, every difference of opinion 
in the controlling body was destined to end in the physical 
extinction of the minority. The Revolution, which had extin- 
guished its enemies, began to devour its favorite sons. The 
Siirsty gods gave no more truce. 


In May, 1927, as a representative of the Italian Communist 
Party, I took part with Togliatti in an extraordinary session 
of the enlarged Executive of the Communist International 
Togliatti had come from Paris, where he was running the 
political secretariat of the Party, and I from Italy, where I 
was in charge of the underground organization. We met in Ber- 
lin and went on to Moscow together. The meeting — ostensibly 
summoned for an urgent discussion of what direction should 
be given to the Communist Parties in the struggle "against 
the imminent imperialist war"^ — was actually designed to 
begin the "liquidation * of Trotsky and Zinoviev, who were 
still members of the International Executive. As usual, to 
avoid surprises, the full session had been preceded and every 
detail prepared by the so-caUed Senior-convent, consisting of 
the heads of the most important delegations. Togliatti, on that 
occasion, insisted that I should accompany him to these re- 
stricted sittings. According to the rules, only he had a right 
to attend on behalf of the Italian delegation; but, rightly fore- 
seeing what complications were about to arise, he preferred 
to have the support of the representative of the clandestine 
organization. At the first sitting which we attended, I had the 
impression that we had arrived too late. We were in a small 
oflSce in the Communist International Headquarters. The Ger- 
man Thahnann was presiding, and immediately began reading 
out a proposed resolution against Trotsky, to be presented at 
the full session. This resolution condemned, in the most violent 
terms, a document which Trotsky had addressed to the Politi- 
cal Office of the Russian Communist Party. The Russian dele- 
gation at that day*s session of the Senior-convent was an 

Ignazio Silone 107 

exceptional one: Stalin, Rikov, Bukharin and Manuilsky. At 
the end of the reading Thalmann asked if we were in 
agreement with the proposed resolution. The Finn Ottomar 
Kuusinen found that it was not strong enough. “It should 
be said openly/^ he suggested, “that the document sent by 
Trotsky to the Political Office of the Russian Communist 
Party is of an entirely counter-revolutionary character and 
constitutes clear proof that the man who wrote it no longer 
has anything in\;ommon with the working class.” As no one 
else asked to speak, after consulting Toghatti, I made my 
apologies for having arrived late and so not having been able 
to see the document which was to be condemned. “To tell 
the truth,” Thalmann declared candidly, “we haven't seen 
the document either.” 

Preferring not to believe my ears, I repeated my objection 
in other words; “It may very well be true,” I said, “that 
Trotsky's document should be condemned, but obviously I 
cannot condemn it before I've read it.” 

“Neither have we,” repeated Thalmann, “neither have the 
majority of the delegates present here, except for the Russians, 
read the document.” Thalmann spoke in German and his 
words were translated into Russian for Stalin, and into French 
for two or three of us. The reply given to me was so incredible 
that I rounded on the translator. “It's impossible,” I said, 
“that Thalmann should have said that. I must ask you to 
repeat his answer word for word.” 

At this point Stalin intervened. He was standing over at 
one side of the room, and seemed the only person present who 
was calm and unruffled. 

“The Political Office of the Party,” said Stalin, “has con- 
sidered that it would not be expedient to translate and dis- 
tribute Trotsky's document to the delegates of the Inter- 
national Executive, because there are various allusions in it 
to the policy of the Soviet State.” (The mysterious document 
was later published abroad by Trotsky himself, in a booklet 
entitled Problems of the Chinese Revolution, and as anyone 

108 Ignazio Silone 

can today still see for himself, it contains no mention of the 
policy of the Soviet State, but a closely reasoned attack on 
the policy practiced in China by Stalin and the Communist 

In a speech of April 15, 1927, in the presence of the Moscow 
Soviets, Stalin had sung the praises of Chiang Kai-shek, and 
confirmed his personal confidence in the Kuomintang; this was 
barely a week before the famous anti-Communist volte face 
of the Chinese Nationalist leader and of his the Com- 

munists were expelled from the Kuomintang Ofromight, tens 
of thousands of workers were massacred in Shanghai and, a 
month later, in Wuhan. It was natural therefore that Stalin 
should have been anxious to avoid a debate on these matters, 
seeking to protect himself behind a screen of raison detat. 

Ernst Thalmann asked me if I were satisfied with Stahn^s 
explanation. T do not contest the right of the Political OflBce 
of the Russian Communist Party to keep any document 
secret,^ I said. "But I do not understand how others can be 
asked to condemn an unknown document/" At this, indigna- 
tion against myself and Togliatti, who appeared to agree with 
what I had said, knew no bounds; it was especially violent on 
the part of the Finn, whom I have already mentioned, a Bul- 
garian and one or two Hungarians, 

"It"s unheard-of,"" cried Kuusinen, very red in the face, "that 
we still have such petty bourgeois in the fortress of^ the World 
Revolution/" He pronounced the words petty bourgeois with 
an extremely comical expression of contempt and disgust The 
only person who remained calm and imperturbable was Stalin. 
He said, "If a single delegate is against the proposed resolu- 
tion, it should not be presented."" Then he added, "Perhaps 
our Italian comrades are not fully aware of our internal situ- 
ation. I propose that the sitting be suspended until tomorrow 
and that one of those present should be assigned the task of 
spending the evening with our Italian comrades and explain- 
ing our internal situation to them."" The Bulgarian Vasil 
Kolarov was given this ungrateful task. 

He carried it out with tact and good humor. He invited us 

Ignazio Silone 109 

to have a glass of tea that evening in his room at the Hotel 
Lux. And he faced up to the thorny subject without much 
preamble. "Let's be frank/' he said to us with a smile. "Do 
you think IVe read that document? No, I haven't. To tell you 
the whole truth, I can add that that document doesn't even 
interest me. Shall I go further? Even if Trotsky sent me a 
copy here, secretly, I'd refuse to read it. My dear Italian 
friends, this isn't a question of documents. I know that Italy 
is the classic dountry of academies, but we aren't in an 
academy here. Here we are in the thick of a struggle for 
power between two rival groups of the Russian Central Di- 
rectorate. Which of the two groups do we want to line up 
with? That’s the point. Documents don't come into it. It's 
not a question of finding the historic truth about an unsuc- 
cessful Chinese revolution. It's a question of a struggle for 
power between two hostile, irreconcilable groups. One's got 
to choose. I, for my part, have already chosen, I'm for die 
majority group. Whatever tiie minority says or does, whatever 
document it draws up against the majority, I repeat to you 
that I'm for the majority. Documents don't interest me. We 
aren't in an academy here." He refilled our glasses with tea 
and scrutinized us with the air of a schoolmaster obliged to 
deal with two unruly youngsters. "Do I make myself clear?” 
he asked, addressing me specifically. 

"Certainly,” I replied, "very clear indeed." "Have I per- 
suaded you?” he asked again. "No," I said. "And why not?” 
he wanted to know. "I should have to explain to you,” I said, 
"why I'm against Fascism." Kolarov pretended to be indignant, 
while Togliatti expressed his opinion in more moderate, but 
no less succinct, terms. "One can't just declare oneself for 
the majority or for the minority in advance," he said. “One 
can't ignore the political basis of the question." 

Kolarov listened to us with a benevolent smile of pity. 
"You’re still too young," he explained, as he accompanied us 
to the door. "You haven't yet understood what politics are 
all about." 

Next morning, in the Senior-convent, the scene of the day 

110 Ignazio Silone 

before was repeated. An unusual atmosphere of nervousness 
pervaded the little room into which a dozen of us were 
packed. "‘Have you explained the situation to our Italian 
comrades?'" Stalin asked Kolarov. “Fully” the Bulgarian as- 
sured him. “If a single delegate,” Stalin repeated, “is against 
the proposed resolution, it cannot be presented in the full 
session. A resolution against Trotsky can only be taken unan- 
imously. Are our Italian comrades,” he added, turning to 
us, “favorable to the proposed resolution?” ^ 

After consulting Togliatti, I declared: “Before taking the 
resolution into consideration, we must see the document con- 
cerned.” The Frenchman Albert Treint and the Swiss Jules 
Humbert-Droz made identical declarations. (Both of them, 
a few years later, also ended outside the Communist Inter- 

“The proposed resolution is withdrawn.” said Stalin. After 
which, we had the same hysterical scene as the day before, 
with the indignant, angry protests of Kuusinen, Rakosi, Pepper 
and the others. Thalmann argued from our “scandalous” at- 
titude that the whole trend of our anti-Fascist activity in Italy 
was most probably wrong, and that if Fascism was still so 
firmly entrenched in Italy it must be our fault. He asked 
because of this that the policy of the Italian Communist Party 
should be subjected to a thorough sifting. This was^ done; and 
as a reprisal for our “impertinent” conduct those fanatical 
censors discovered that the fundamental guiding lines of our 
activity, traced in the course of the previous years by Antonio 
Gramoci, were seriously contaminated by a petty-bourgeois 
spirit. Togliatti decided that it would be prudent for us both 
to address a letter to the Political OflSce of the Russian Com- 
munist Party explaining the reason for oxir attitude at that 
meeting of the Executive. No Communist, the letter said in 
effect, would presume to question the historical pre-eminence 
of our Russian comrades in the leadership of the International; 
but this pre-eminence imposed special duties on our Russian 
comrades; they could not apply the rights it gave them in a 

Ignazio Silone 111 

mechanical and authoritarian way. The letter was received 
by Bukharin, who sent for us at once and advised us to with- 
draw it so as not to worsen our already appalling political 

Days of somber discouragement followed for me. I asked 
myself: Have we sunk to this? Those who are dead, those who 
are dying in prison, have sacrificed themselves for this? The 
vagabond, lonely, perilous lives that we oxurselves are leadmg, 
strangers m our own countries — ^is it aU for this? My de- 
pression soon reached that extreme stage when the will is 
paralyzed and physical resistance suddenly gives way. 

Before I left Moscow an Italian working-man came to see 
me. He had been a refugee in Russia for some years to avoid 
the long term of imprisonment to which a Fascist tribunal had 
sentenced him, (He is still, I believe, a Communist today.) 
He came to complain of the humiliating conditions of the 
workers in the Moscow factory to which he was attached. 
He was ready to put up with the material shortages of every 
kind, smce to remedy them was clearly beyond the power of 
individuals, but he could not xmderstand why the workmen 
were entirely at the mercy of the factory directorate and had 
no effective organization to protect their interests; why, m 
this respect also, they should be much worse off than in capi- 
talist countries. Most of the much-vaunted rights of the work- 
ing class were purely theoretical. 

In Berlin, on my way back, I read in the paper that the 
Executive of the Communist International had severely re- 
buked Trotsky for a document he had prepared about recent 
events in China. I went to the offices of the German Com- 
munist Party and asked Thahnann for an explanation. “This 
is untrue,’^ I said to him sharply. 

But he explained that the statutes of the International 
authorized the Presidium, in case of urgency, to adopt any 
resolution in the name of the Executive. During the few days 
I had to stay in Berlin, while waiting for my false documents 
to be put in order, I read in the papers that the American, 

112 Ignazio Silone 

Hungarian and Czechoslovakian Connnunist Parties had ener- 
getically deplored Trotsky’s letter. “Has the mysterious docu- 
ment finally been produced, then?” “No,” he answered me. 
“But I hope the example set by the American, Hungarian and 
Czechoslovakian Communists has shown you what Communist 
discipline means.” These things were said with no hint of 
irony, but indeed with dismal seriousness that befitted the 
are reahty to which they referred. 


For reasons of health I had to go straight into a Swiss sana- 
torium, and all political decisions were suspended. One day, 
in a village not far from where I was taking my cure, I had 
a meeting with Togliatti. He explained to me at great length, 
clearly and frankly, the reasons for the line of conduct he had 
chosen. The present state of the International, he said in brief, 
was certainly neither satisfactory nor agreeable. But aU our 
good intentions were powerless to change it; objective his- 
torical conditions were involved and must be taken into 
account. The forms of the Proletarian Revolution were not 
arbitrary. If they did not accord with our preferences, so much 
the worse for us. And besides, what alternative remained? 
Other Communists who had broken with the Party, how had 
they ended up? Consider, he said, the appalling condition of 
Social Democracy. 

My objections to these arguments were not very coherent, 
mainly because Togliattfs arguments were purely political, 
whereas the agitation which my recent experiences had 
aroused in me went far beyond poHtics. These “inexcusable 
historical forms” to which we must bow down — ^what were 
they but a new version of the inhuman reality against which, 
in declaring ourselves Socialists, we had rebelled? I felt at 
that time like someone who has had a tremendous blow on 
the head and keeps on his feet, walking, talking and gesticu- 
lating, but without fully realizing what has happened. 

Realization came, however, slowly and with dfficulty during 

Ignazio Silone 113 

title course of the succeeding years. And to this day I go on 
thinking it over, trying to understand better. If I have written 
books, it has been to try and understand and to make others 
understand. I am not at all certain that I have reached the 
end of my efforts. The truth is this: the day I left the Com- 
munist Party was a very sad one for me, it was like a day of 
deep mourning, the mourning for my lost youth. And I come 
from a district where mourning is worn longer than elsewhere. 
It is not easy to free oneself from an experience as intense as 
that of the underground organization of the Communist Party. 
Something of it remains and leaves a mark on the character 
which lasts all one’s life. One can, in fact, notice how recog- 
nizable the ex-Communists are. They constitute a category 
apart, like ex-priests and ex-regular oiBScers. The number of 
ex-Communists is legion today. “The final struggle,” I said 
jokingly to Togliatti recently, “will be between the Com- 
munists and the ex-Communists.” 

However, I carefully avoided, after I had left the Com- 
munist Party, ending up in one of the many groups and 
splinter-groups of ex-Communists; and I have never regretted 
this in any way, as I know well the kind of fate which rules 
over these groups and splinter-groups, and makes little sects 
of them which have all the defects of official Communism — 
the fanaticism, the centralization, the abstraction — ^without 
the qualities and advantages which the latter derives from its 
vast working-class following. The logic of opposition at aU 
costs has carried many ex-Communists far from their starting- 
points, in some cases as far as Fascism. 

Consideration of the experience I have been through has led 
me to a deepening of the motives for my separation which go 
very much further than the circumstantial ones by which it 
was produced. But my faith in Socialism (to which I think I 
can say my entire hfe bears testimony) has remained more 
ahve than ever in me. In its essence, it has gone back to what 
it was when I first revolted against the old social order; a re- 
fusal to admit the existence of destiny, an extension of the ethi- 

114 Ignazio Silone 

cal impulse from the restricted individual and family sphere to 
the whole domain of human activity, a need for effective 
brotherhood, an afl5rmation of the superiority of the human 
person over all the economic and social mechanisms which 
oppress him. As the years have gone by, there has been added 
to this an intuition of man^s dignity and a feeling of reverence 
for that which in man is always trying to outdistance itself, 
and lies at the root of his eternal disquiet. But I do not think 
that this kind of Socialism is in any way peculiar to me. The 
‘mad truths’^ recorded above are older than Marxism; toward 
the second half of the last century they took refuge in the 
workers’ movement born of industrial capitalism, and continue 
to remain one of its most enduring founts of inspiration. I have 
repeatedly expressed my opinion on the relations between 
the Socialist Movement and the theories of Socialism; these 
relations are by no means rigid or immutable. With the de- 
velopment of new studies, the theories may go out of fashion 
or be discarded, but the movement goes on. It would be in- 
accurate, however, with regard to the old quarrel between the 
doctrinaires and the empiricists of the workers’ movement, 
to include me among the latter. I do not conceive Socialist 
policy as tied to any particular theory, but to a faith. The more 
Socialist theories claim to be “scientific,” the more transitory 
they are; but Socialist values are permanent. The distinction 
between theories and values is not sujBBciently recognized, but 
it is fundamental. On a group of theories one can found a 
school; but on a group of values one can found a culture, a 
civilization, a new way of living together among men. 

Richard Wright 

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Richcrd Wright was born on September 
4, 1908, on a plantation twenty -five miles from Natchez, 
Mississippi, of poor Negro parents. Deserted by his father, his 
mother, a washerwoman, brought him up until she was stricken 
with paralysis, when his grandmother took charge and sent 
him to a Seventh Day Adventist school. At fifteen he left home 
and worked for two years in Memphis where he read H. L. 
Menckens A Book of Prefaces and decided to become a writer. 
With $150 in his pocket he went to Chicago and earned his 
living by odd jobs until the depression put him out of work. 
He joined the Communist Party through the John Reed Club. 

His books are: Uncle Tom^s Children (short stories). How 
Bigger was Bom, Native Son and Black Boy. 

One Thxnrsday night I received an invitation from a group 
of white boys I had known when I was working in the post 
oflSce to meet in one of Chicago's South Side hotels and argue 
the state of the world. About ten of us gathered, and ate 
salami sandwiches, drank beer, and talked. I was amazed to 
discover that many of them had joined the Communist Party. 
I challenged them by reciting the antics of the Negro Com- 
munists I had seen in the parks, and I was told that those 
antics were ^"tactics" and were all right. I was dubious. 

Then one Thursday night Sol, a Jewish chap, startled us 
by announcing that he had had a short story accepted by a 


116 Richard Wright 

little magazine called the Anvil, edited by Jack Conroy, and 
that he had joined a revolutionary artist organization, the 
John Reed Club. Sol repeatedly begged me to attend the meet- 
ings of the club. 

^Tfou’d like them/' Sol said. 

"I don’t want to be organized/’ I said. 

*They can help you to write/’ he said. 

^'Nobody can tell me how or what to writ^/’ I said. 

"Come and see/’ he urged. *What have you to lose?” 

I felt that Communists could not possibly have a sincere 
interest in Negroes. I was cynical and I would rather have 
heard a white man say that he hated Negroes, which I could 
have readily believed, than to have heard him say that he 
respected Negroes, which would have made me doubt him. 

One Saturday night, bored with reading, I decided to appear 
at the John Reed Club in the capacity of an amused spectator. 
I rode to the Loop and found the number. A dark stairway 
led upward; it did not look welcoming. What on earth of 
importance could happen in so dingy a place? Through the 
windows above me I saw vague murals along the walls. I 
mounted the stairs to a door that was lettered: the Chicago 


I opened it and stepped into the strangest room I had ever 
seen. Paper and cigarette butts lay on the floor. A few benches 
ran along the walls, above which were vivid colors depicting 
colossal figures of workers carrying streaming banners. The 
mouths of the workers gaped in wild cries; their legs were 
sprawled over cities. 


I turned and saw a white man smiling at me. 

"A friend of mine, who’s a member of this club, asked me 
to visit here. His name is Sol — I told him. 

**You’re welcome here,” the white man said. ^We’re not 
having an affair tonight. We re holding an editorial meeting. 
Do you paint?” He was slightly gray and he had a mustache. 

"No,” I said. "I try to write.” 

Richard Wright 117 

"Then sit in on the editorial meeting of our magazine. Left 
Frontf* he suggested. 

"I know nothing of editing,’’ I said. 

^Tou can learn,” he said. 

I stared at him, doubting. 

"I don’t want to be in the way here,” I said. 

"My name’s Grimm,” he said. 

I told him my name and we shook hands. He went to a 
closet and returned with an armful of magazines. 

"Here are some back issues of the Masses,*" he said. "Have 
you ever read it?” 

"No,” I said. 

"Some of the best writers in America publish in it,” he 
explained. He also gave me copies of a magazine called Inter- 
national Literature, "There’s stufiE here from Gide, Gorky — 

I assured him that I would read them. He took me to an 
office and introduced me to a Jewish boy who was to become 
one of the nation s leading painters, to a chap who was to 
become one of the eminent composers of his day, to a writer 
who was to create some of the best novels of his generation, 
to a young Jewish boy who was destined to film the Nazi 
occupation of Czechoslovakia. I was meeting men and women 
whom I should know for decades to come, who were to form 
the first sustained relationships in my life. 

I sat in a corner and listened while they discussed their 
magazine, Left Front, Were they treating me courteously 
because I was a Negro? I must let cold reason guide me with 
these people, I told myself. I was asked to contribute some- 
thing to the magazine, and I said vaguely that I would con- 
sider it. After the meeting I met an Irish girl who worked for 
an advertising agency, a girl who did social work, a school- 
teacher, and the wife of a prominent university professor. I 
had once worked as a servant for people like these and I was 
skeptical. I tried to fathom their motives, but I could detect 
no condescension in them. 

118 Richard Wright 

I went home full of reflection, probing the sincerity of the 
strange white people I had met, wondering how they really 
regarded Negroes. I lay on my bed and read the magazines 
and was amazed to find that iheve did exist in this world an 
organized search for the truth of the Hves of the oppressed 
and the isolated. When I had begged bread from the officials, 
I had wondered dimly if the outcasts could become united 
in action, thought, and feeling. Now I knew. It was being 
done in one-sixth of the earth already. 1?he revolutionary 
words leaped from the printed page and struck me with 
tremendous force. 

It was not the economics of Communism, nor the great 
power of trade unions, nor the excitement of underground 
politics that claimed me; my attention was caught by the 
similarity of the experiences of workers in other lands, by the 
possibility of uniting scattered but kindred peoples into a 
whole. It seemed to me that here at last, in the realm of 
revolutionary expression, Negro experience could find a home, 
a functioning value and role. Out of the magazines I read 
came a passionate caU for the experiences of the disinherited, 
and there were none of the lame lispings of the missionary in 
it. It did not say; ^Be like us and we will like you, maybe.” 
It said: "If you possess enough comrage to speak out what you 
are, you will find that you are not alone.” It tirged life to 
believe in life. 

I read on into the night; then, toward dawn, I swung from 
bed and inserted paper into the typewriter. Feeling for the 
first time that I could speak to listening ears, I wrote a wild, 
crude poem in free verse, coining images of black hands play- 
ing, working, holding bayonets, stiffening finally in death. I 
felt that in a clumsy way it linked white life with black, 
merged two streams of common experience. 

I heard someone poking about the kitchen. 

"Eichard, are you ill?” my mother called. 

"No. Im reading.” 


Richard Wright 

My mother opened the door and stared curiously at the pile 
of magazines that lay upon my pillow. 

*‘You’re not throwing away money buying those magazines, 
are you?” she asked. 

"No. They were given to me.” 

She hobbled to the bed on her crippled legs and picked up 
a copy of the Masses that carried a lurid May Day cartoon. 
She adjusted her glasses and peered at it for a long time. 

"My God in heaven,” she breathed in horror. 

*What s the matter, Mama?” 

"What is this?” she asked, extending the magazine to me, 
pointing to the cover. ^Whafs wrong with that man?” 

With my mother standing at my side, lending me her eyes, 
I stared at a cartoon drawn by a Communist artist; it was the 
figure of a worker clad in ragged overalls and holding aloft 
a red banner. The man s eyes bulged; his mouth gaped as 
wide as his face; his teeth showed; the muscles of his neck 
were hke ropes. Following the man was a horde of nondescript 
men, women, and children, waving clubs, stones and pitch- 

*What are those people going to do?” my mother asked. 

"I don’t know,” I hedged. 

"Are these Communist magazines?” 


"And do they want people to act like this?” 

‘WeU— ” I hesitated. 

My mother s face showed disgust and moral loathing. She 
was a gentle woman. Her ideal was Christ upon the cross. 
How could I tell her that the Communist Party wanted her to 
march in the streets, chanting, singing? 

"What do Communists think people are?” she asked. 

"They don’t quite mean what you see there,” I said, fumbling 
with my words. 

"Then what do they mean?” 

"This is symbolic,” I said. 

"Then why don’t they speak out what they mean?” 

120 Richard Wright 

"Maybe they don^t know bow." 

"Then why do they print this stuff?" 

"They don’t quite know how to appeal to people yet " I 
adnaitted, wondering whom I could convince of this if I could 
not convince my mother. 

"That picture’s enough to drive a body crazy " she said, 
dropping the magazine, turning to leave, then pausing at the 
door. "You’re not getting mixed up with those people?" 

"I’m just reading, Mama," I dodged. 

My mother left and I brooded upon the fact that I had not 
been able to meet her simple challenge. I looked again at the 
cover of the Masses and I knew that the wild cartoon did not 
reflect the passions of the common people. I reread the maga- 
zine and was convinced that much of the expression embodied 
what the artists thought would appeal to others, what they 
thought would gain recruits. They had a program, an ideal, 
but they had not yet found a language. 

Here, then, was something that I could do, reveal, say. The 
Communists, I felt, had oversimplified the experience of those 
whom they sought to lead. In Aeir efforts to recruit masses, 
they had missed the meaning of the lives of the masses, had 
conceived of people in too abstract a manner. I would try to 
put some of that meaning back. I would tell Communists how 
common people felt, and I would teU common people of the 
self-sacrifice of Communists who strove for unity among them. 

The editor of Left Front accepted two of my crude poems 
for publication, sent two of them to Jack Conroy’s Anvil, and 
sent another to the New Masses, the successor of the Masses. 
Doubts still lingered in my mind. 

“Don’t send them if you think they aren’t good enough," I 
said to him. 

“They’re good enough," he said. 

“Are you doing this to get me to join up?" I asked, 

“No," he said. “Your poems are crude, but good for us. You 
see, we’re all new in this. We write articles about Negroes, 
but we never see any Negroes. We need your stuff." 


Richard Wright 

I sat through several meetings of the club and was impressed 
by the scope and seriousness of its activities. The club was 
demanding that the government create jobs for unemployed 
artists; it planned and organized art exhibits; it raised funds 
for the publication of Left Front; and it sent scores of speakers 
to trade-union meetings. The members were fervent, demo- 
cratic, restless, eager, self-sacrificing. I was convinced, and 
my response was to set myself the task of making Negroes 
know what Communists were. I got the notion of writing a 
series of biographical sketches of Negro Communists. I told 
no one of my intentions, and I did not know how fantastically 
naive my ambition was. 


I had attended but a few meetings before I realized that a 
bitter factional fight was in progress between two groups of 
members of the club. Sharp arguments rose at every meeting. 
I noticed that a small group of painters actually led the club 
and dominated its policies. The group of writers that centered 
in Lep Front resented the leadership of the painters. Being 
primarily interested in Lep Front, I sided in simple loyalty 
with the writers. 

Then came a strange development. The Lep Front group 
declared that the incumbent leadership did not reflect the 
wishes of the club. A special meeting was called and a motion 
was made to re-elect an executive secretary. When nomina- 
tions were made for the oflSce, my name was included. I 
declined the nomination, telling the members that I was too 
ignorant of their aims to be seriously considered. The debate 
lasted all night. A vote was taken in the early hours of morn- 
ing by a show of hands, and I was elected. 

Later I learned what had happened: the writers of the club 
had decided to use me to oust the painters, who were Party 
members, from the leadership of the club. Without my knowl- 
edge and consent, they confronted the members of tihe Party 
with a Negro, knowing that it would be difficult for Com- 


Richard Wright 

munists to refuse to vote for a man representing the largest 
single racial minority in the nation, inasmuch as Negro equal- 
ity was one of the main tenets of Communism. 

As the club’s leader, I soon learned the nature of the fight. 
The Communists had secretly organized a "fraction” in the 
club; that is, a small portion of the club’s members were secret 
members of the Communist Party. They would meet outside 
of the club and decide what policies the club should follow; 
in club meetings the sheer strength of their arguments usually 
persuaded non-Party members to vote with them. The crux of 
the fight was that the non-Party members resented the exces- 
sive demands made upon the club by the local Party authori- 
ties through the fraction. 

The demands of the local Party authorities for money, 
speakers, and poster painters were so great that die publica- 
tion of Left Front was in danger. Many young writers had 
joined the club because of their hope of publishing in Left 
Fronty and when the Communist Party sent word through the 
fraction that the magazine should be dissolved, the writers 
rejected the decision, an act which was interpreted as hostility 
toward Party authority. 

I pleaded with the Party members for a more liberal pro- 
gram for the club. Feeling waxed violent and bitter. Then the 
showdown came. I was informed that if I wanted jto continue 
as secretary of the club I should have to join the Communist 
Party. I stated that I favored a policy that allowed for the 
development of writers and artists. My policy was accepted. 
I signed the membership card. 

One night a Jewish chap appeared at one of our meetings 
and introduced himself as Comrade Young of Detroit. He told 
us that he was a member of the Communist Party, a member 
of the Detroit John Reed Club, that he planned to make his 
home in Chicago. He was a short, friendly, black-haired, well- 
read fellow widi hanging lips and bulging eyes. Shy of forces 
to execute the demands of the Communist Party, we welcomed 
him. But I could not make out Young’s personality; whenever 


Richard Wright 

I asked a simple question, he looked oflf and stammered a con- 
fused answer. I decided to send his references to the Com- 
munist Party for checking and forthwith named him for mem- 
bership in the club. He's O.K., I thought. Just a queer artist. 

After the meeting Comrade Young confronted me with a 
problem. He had no money, he said, and asked if he could 
sleep temporarily on the club's premises. Believing him loyal, 
I gave him permission. Straightway Young became one of the 
most ardent members of our organization, admired by all. His 
painting — ^which I did not understand — ^impressed our best 
artists. No report about Young had come from the Communist 
Party, but since Young seemed a conscientious worker, I did 
not think the omission a serious one in any case. 

At a meeting one night Young asked that his name be placed 
upon the agenda; when his time came to speak, he rose and 
launched into one of the most violent and bitter political 
attacks in the club's history upon Swann, one of our best young 
artists. We were aghast. Young accused Swann of being a 
traitor to the workers, an opportunist, a collaborator with the 
police, and an adherent of Trotsky. Naturally most of the 
club's members assumed that Young, a member of the Party, 
was voicing the ideas of the Party. Surprised and baffled, I 
moved that Young's statement be referred to the executive 
committee for decision. Swann rightfully protested; he de- 
clared that he had been attacked in public and would answer 
in public. 

It was voted that Swann should have the floor. He refuted 
Young's wild charges, but the majority of the club's members 
were bewildered, did not know whether to believe him or not. 
We all liked Swann, did not believe him guilty of any miscon- 
duct; but we did not want to offend the Party. A verbal battle 
ensued. Finally the members who had been silent in deference 
to the Party rose and demanded of me that the foolish charges 
against Swann be withdrawn. Again I moved that the matter 
be referred to the executive committee and again my proposal 
was voted down. The membership had now begun to distrust 

124 Richard Wright 

the Party's motives. They were afraid to let an executive com- 
mittee, the majority of whom were Party members, pass upon 
the charges made by Party-member Young. 

A delegation of members asked me later if I had anything 
to do with Young's charges. I was so hurt and humiliated that 
I disavowed all relations with Young. Determined to end the 
farce, I cornered Young and demanded to know who had 
given him authority to castigate Swann. 

Tve been asked to rid the club of traitors."^ 

“But Swann isn't a traitor,” I said. 

“We must have a purge,” he said, his eyes bulging, his face 
quivering with passion, 

I admitted his great revolutionary fervor, but I felt that his 
zeal was a trifle excessive. The situation became worse. A 
delegation of members informed me that if the charges against 
Swann were not withdrawn, they would resign in a body. I 
was frantic. I wrote to the Communist Party to ask why orders 
had been issued to punish Swann, and a reply came back that 
no such orders had been issued. Then what was Young up to? 
Who was prompting him? I finally begged the club to let me 
place the matter before the leaders of the Communist Party. 
After a violent debate, my proposal was accepted. 

One night ten of us met in an office of a leader of the Party 
to hear Young restate his charges against Swann.. The Party 
leader, aloof and amused, gave Young the signal to begin. 
Young unrolled a sheaf of papers and declaimed a list of politi- 
cal charges that excelled in viciousness his previous charges. 
I stared at Young, feeling that he was making a dreadful mis- 
take, but fearing him because he had, by his own account, the 
sanction of high political authority. 

When Young finished, the Party leader asked, "Will you 
allow me to read these charges?” 

“Of course,” said Young, surrendering a copy of his indict- 
ment. ‘Tou may keep that copy. I have ten carbons.” 

“Why did you make so many carbons?” the leader asked. 

“I didn't want anyone to steal them,” Young said. 

Richard Wright 125 

this man s charges against me are taken seriously,’^ Swann 
said, “111 resign and publicly denounce the club.” 

“You see!” Young yelled. “He’s with the police!” 

I was sick. The meeting ended with a promise from the 
Party leader to read the charges carefully and render a verdict 
as to whether Swann should be placed on trial or not. I was 
convinced that something was wrong, but I could not figure 
it out. One afternoon I went to the club to have a long talk 
with Young; buf when I arrived, he was not there. Nor was 
he there the next day. For a week I sought Young in vain. 
Meanwhile the club’s members asked his whereabouts and 
they would not believe me when I told them that I did not 
know. Was he ill? Had he been picked up by the police? 

One afternoon Comrade Grimm and I sneaked into the 
club’s headquarters and opened Young’s luggage. What we 
saw puzzled us. First of all, there was a scroll of paper twenty 
yards long — one page pasted to another — ^which had drawings 
depicting the history of the human race from a Marxist point 
of view. The first page read; “A Pictorial Record Of Man’s 
Economic Progress.” 

“This is terribly ambitious,” I said. 

“He’s very studious,” Grimm said. 

There were long dissertations written in long-hand; some 
were politigal and others dealt with the history of art. Finally 
we found a letter with a Detroit return address and I promptly 
wrote asking news of our esteemed member. A few days later 
a letter came which said in part: — 

Dear Sir; 

In reply to your letter, we beg to inform you that Mr. 

Young who was a patient in our institution and who escaped 

from our custody a few months ago, has been apprehended 

and returned to this institution for mental treatment. 

I was thunderstruck. Was this true? Undoubtedly it was. 
Then what kind of club did we run that a lunatic could step 
into it and help run it? Were we all so mad that we could not 
detect a madman when we saw one? 

126 Richard Wright 

I made a motion that all charges against Swann be dropped, 
which was done. I offered Swann an apology, but as the leader 
of the Chicago John Reed Club I was a sobered and chastened 


The Communist Party fraction in the John Reed Club 
instructed me to ask my party cell — unit,” as it was called — 
to assign me to full duty in the work of thd club. I was in- 
structed to give my unit a report of my activities, writing, 
organizing, speaking. I agreed and wrote the report. 

A unit, membership in which is obligatory for all Com- 
munists, is the Party's basic form of organization. Unit meet- 
ings are held on certain nights which are kept secret for fear 
of police raids. Nothing treasonable occurs at these meetings; 
but once one is a Communist, one does not have to be guilty 
of wrongdoing to attract the attention of the police. 

I went to my first unit meeting — ^which was held in the 
Black Belt of the South Side — ^and introduced myself to the 
Negro organizer. 

^Welcome, comrade,” he said, grinning. "We're glad to have 
a writer with us.” 

"Im not much of a viriter,” I said. 

The meeting started. About twenty Negroes were gathered. 
The time came for me to make my report and I took out my 
notes and told them how I had come to join the Party, what 
few stray items I had published, what my duties were in the 
John Reed Club. I finished and waited for comment. There 
was silence. I looked about. Most of the comrades sat with 
bowed heads. Then I was surprised to catch a twitching smile 
on the lips of a Negro woman. Minutes passed. The Negro 
woman lifted her head and looked at die organizer. The 
organizer smothered a smile. Then the woman broke into 
unrestrained laughter, bending forward and burying her face 
in her hands. I stared. Had I said something funny? 


Richard Wright 

^Whafs the matter?” I asked. 

The giggling became general. The unit organizer, who had 
been dallying with his pencil, looked up. 

‘Tfs all right, comrade,” he said. ‘Were glad to have a 
writer in the Party.” 

There was more smothered laughter. What kind of people 
were these? I had made a serious report and now I heard 

‘T did the bes! I could,” I said uneasily. “I realize that writ- 
ing is not basic or important. But, given time, I think I can 
make a contribution.” 

‘We know you can, comrade,” the black organizer said. 

His tone was more patronizing than that of a Southern 
white man. I grew angry. I thought I knew these people, but 
evidently I did not. I wanted to take issue with their attitude, 
but caution urged me to talk it over with others first. 

During the following days I learned through discreet ques- 
tioning that I seemed a fantastic element to the black Com- 
munists. I was shocked to hear that I, who had been only to 
granunar school, had been classified as an intellectual. ViTiat 
was an intellectual? I had never heard the word used in the 
sense in which it was applied to me. I had thought that they 
might refuse me on the ground that I was not politically 
advanced; I had thought they might say I would have to be 
investigated. But they had simply laughed. 

I learned, to my dismay, that the black Communists in my 
unit had commented upon my shined shoes, my clean shirt, 
and the tie that I had worn. Above all, my maimer of speech 
had seemed an alien thing to them. 

“He talks like a book,” one of the Negro comrades had said. 
And that was enough to condemn me forever as bourgeois. 


In my Party work I met a Negro Communist, Ross, who 
was under indictment for “inciting to riot.” Ross typified the 
eflEective street agitator. Southern-bom, he had migrated North 

128 Richard Wright 

and his life reflected the crude hopes and frustrations of the 
peasant in the city. Distrustful but aggressive, he was a bundle 
of the weaknesses and virtues of a man struggling blindly 
between two societies, of a man living on the margin of a 
V lulture. I felt that if I could get his story, I could make known 
v.ome of the diflSculties inherent in the adjustment of a folk 
people to an xnrban environment; I should make his life more 
intelligible to others than it was to himself. 

I approached Ross and explained my plari. He was agree- 
able. He invited me to his home, introducing me to his Jewish 
wife, his young son, his friends. I talked to Ross for hours, 
explaining what I was about, cautioning him not to relate 
anything that he did not want to divulge. ^ 

"I m after the things that made you a Communist,” I said. 

Word spread in the Communist Party that I was taking 
notes on the life of Ross, and strange things began to happen. 
A quiet black Communist came to my home one night and 
called me out to the street to speak to me in private. He made 
a prediction about my future that frightened me. 

intellectuals don t fit well into the Party, Wright,” he said 

^'But Im not an intellectual,” I protested, i sweep the 
streets for a living.” I had just been assigned by the relief 
system to sweep the streets for thirteen dollars a week. 

*'That doesn’t make any difference,” he said. “tVeVe kept 
records of the trouble we ve had with intellectuals in the past. 
It’s estimated that only 13 per cent of them remain in the 

^Why do they leave, since you insist upon calling me an 
intellectual?” I asked, 

"‘Most of them drop out of their own accord.” 

"Well, I’m not dropping out,” I said. 

"Some are expelled,” he hinted gravely. 

"For what?” 

"General opposition to the Party’s policies,” he said 

"But I’m not opposing anything in the Party.” 


Richard Wright 

*TouTl have to prove your revolutionary loyalty.’' 


“The Party has a way of testing people." 

“WeU, talk. What is this?" 

“How do you react to police?" 

“I don’t react to them," I said. 'T ve never been bothered 
by them." 

“Do you know Evans?" he asked, referring to a local militant 
Negro Commudist. 

‘Tfes. I Ve seen him; Ive met him." 

“Did you notice that he was injured?" 

^'Yes. His head was bandaged." 

“He got that wound from the police in a demonstration," 
he explained. “That’s proof of revolutionary loyalty." 

“Do you mean that I must get whacked over the head by 
cops to prove that I’m sincere?” I asked. 

“I’m not suggesting anything," he said. “I’m explaining.” 

“Look. Suppose a cop whacks me over the head and I suffer 
a brain concussion. Suppose I’m nuts after that. Can I write 
then? What shall I have proved?” 

He shook his head. “The Soviet Union has had to shoot a 
lot of intellectuals," he said. 

“Good Godl" I exclaimed. “Do you know what you’re say- 
ing? You’re not in Russia. You’re standing on a sidewalk in 
Clucago. -you talk like a man lost in a fantasy.” 

^Tou’ve heard of Trotsky, haven’t you?" he asked. 


“Do you know what happened to him?" 

“He was banished from the Soviet Union," I said. 

“Do you know why?" 

'Well," I stammered, trying not to reveal my ignorance of 
politics, for I had not followed the details of Trotsky’s fight 
against the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, “it seems 
that after a decision had been made, he broke that decision by 
organizing against the Party." 

“It was for counter-revolutionary activity,” he snapped im- 

130 Richard Wright 

patiently; I learned afterward that my answer had not been 
satisfactory, had not been couched in the acceptable phrases 
of bitter, anti-Trotsky denunciation. 

T understand,” I said. "But Ive never read Trotsky. Whafs 
his stand on minorities?” 

'Why ask me?” he asked, 'T don't read Trotsky.” 

"Look,” I said. "If you found me reading Trotsky, what 
would that mean to you?” 

"Comrade, you don't understand,” he saicf in an annoyed 

That, ended the conversation. But that was not the last time 
I was to hear the phrase: "Comrade, you don't understand.” 
I had not been aware of holding wrong ideas. I had not ^ead 
any of Trotsky's works; indeed, the very opposite had been 
true. It had been Stalin's Marxism and the National and Colo-- 
nial Question that had captured my interest. 

Of all the developments in the Soviet Union, the way scores 
of backward peoples had been led to unity on a national scale 
was what had enthralled me. I had read with awe how the 
Communists had sent phonetic experts into the vast regions 
of Russia to listen to title stammering dialects of peoples op- 
pressed for centuries by the czars. I had made the first total 
emotional commitment of my life when I read how the pho- 
netic experts had given these tongueless people a language, 
newspapers, institutions. I had read how these forgotten folk 
had been encouraged to keep their old cultures, to see in their 
ancient customs meanings and satisfactions as deep as those 
contained in supposedly superior ways of living. And I had 
exclaimed to myself how different this was from the way in 
which Negroes were sneered at in America. 

Then what was the meaning of the warning I had received 
from the black Communist? Why was I a suspected man 
because I wanted to reveal the vast physical and spiritual 
ravages of Negro life, the profundity latent in these rejected 
people, the dramas as old as man and the sun and the moun- 
tains and the seas that were taking place in the poverty of 


Richard Wright 

black America? What was the danger in showing the kinship 
between the sufEerings of the Negro and the sufferings of other 


I sat one morning in Rosses home with his wife and child. I 
was scribbling furiously upon my yellow sheets of paper. The 
doorbell rang and Ross’s wife admitted a black Communist, 
one Ed Green, was tall, taciturn, soldierly, square-shoul- 
dered. I was introduced to him and he nodded stiffly. 

^What’s happening here?” he asked bluntly, 

Ross explained my project to him, and as Ross talked I 
could see Ed Green s face darken. He had not sat down, and 
when Ross’s wife offered him a chair he did not hear her. 

^What’re you going to do with these notes?” he asked me. 

“I hope to weave them into stories,” I said. 

^What’re you asking the Party members?” 

*"About their lives in general.” 

*Who suggested this to you?” he asked. 

"Nobody. I thought of it myself.” 

"Were you ever a member of any other political group?” 

"I worked with the Republicans once,” I said. 

T mean, revolutionary organizations?” he asked. 

"No. Why do you ask?” 

*What kind of work do you do?” 

"I sweep the streets for a living.” 

"How far did you go in school?” 

^Through the grammar grades.” 

*Tou talk like a man who went further than that,” he said. 

*Tve read books. I taught myself.” 

*T don’t know,” he said, looking off. 

"What do you mean?” I asked. “What’s wrong?” 

"To whom have you shown this material?” 

"I’ve shown it to no one yet.” 

What was the meaning of his questions? Naively I thought 

132 Richard Wright 

that lie himself would make a good model for a biographical 

"I’d like to interview you next,*’ I said. 

Tm not interested,” he snapped. 

His manner was so rough that I did not urge him. He called 
Ross into a rear room. I sat feeling that I was guilty of some- 
thing. In a few minutes Ed Green returned, stared at me word- 
lessly, then marched out. 

"\^o does he think he is?” I asked Ross. ^ 

"He*s a member of the Central Committee,” Ross said. 

"But why does he act that way?” 

"Oh, he*s always like that,” Ross said uneasily. 

There was a long silence. o 

"He’s wondering what you’re doing with this material,” 
Ross said finally. 

I looked at him. He, too, had been captured by suspicion. 
He was trying to hide the fear in his face. 

"You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to,” I 

That seemed to soothe him for a moment. But the seed of 
doubt had already been planted. I felt dizzy. Was I mad? Or 
were these people mad? 

"You see, Dick,” Ross’s wife said, "Ross is under an indict- 
ment. Ed Green is the representative of the International 
Labor Defense for the South Side. It’s his duty to keep track 
of people he’s trying to defend. He wanted to know if Ross 
has given you anything that could be used against him in 

I was speechless. 

^What does he think I am?” I demanded. 

There was no answer. 

"You lost people!” I cried and banged my fist on the table. 

Ross was shaken and ashamed. "Aw, Ed Green’s just super- 
cautious,” he mumbled. 

"Ross,” I asked, "do you trust me?” 

"Oh, yes,” he said uneasily. 

We two black men sat in the same room looking at each 


Richard Wright 

other in fear. Both of us were hungry. Both of us depended 
upon public charity to eat and for a place to sleep. Yet we had 
more doubt in our hearts of each other than of the men who 
had cast the mold of our lives. 

I continued to take notes on Rosses life, but each successive 
morning found him more reticent. I pitied him and did not 
argue with him, for I knew that persuasion would not nullify his 
fears. Instead I sat and listened to him and his friends tell tales 
of Southern Ne^ro experience, noting them down in my mind, 
not daring to ask questions for fear they would become alarmed. 

In spite of tlieir fears, I became drenched in the details of 
their lives. I gave up the idea of the biographical sketches and 
settled finally upon writing a series of short stories, using the 
material I had got from Ross and his friends, building upon it, 
inventing. I wove a tale of a group of black boys trespassing 
upon the property of a white man and the lynching that fol- 
lowed. The story was published in an anthology under the title 
of "Big Boy Leaves Home,"'' but its appearance came too late 
to influence the Communists who were questioning the use to 
which I was putting their lives. 

My fitful work assignments from the relief oflBcials ceased, 
and I looked for work that did not exist. I borrowed money to 
ride to and fro on the club’s business. I found a cramped attic 
for my mother and aunt and brother behind some railroad 
tracks. At last the relief authorities placed me in the South 
Side Boys’ Club, and my wages were just enough to provide a 
bare living for my family. 

Then political problems rose to plague me. Ross, whose life 
I had tried to write, was charged by the Communist Party with 
"anti-leadership tendencies," "class collaborationist attitudes," 
and "ideological factionalism" — ^phrases so fanciful that I gaped 
when I heard them. And it was rumored that I, too, would face 
similar charges. It was believed that I had been pohtically in- 
fluenced by him. 

One night a group of black comrades came to my house and 
ordered me to stay away from Ross. 

"But why?" I demanded. 

134 Richard Wright 

‘‘He's an unhealthy element," they said. “Can't you accept a 

“Is this a decision of the Communist Party?" 

“Yes," they said. 

“If I were guilty of something, I’d feel bound to keep your 
decision," I said. “But I've done nothing." 

“Comrade, you don't understand," they said. “Members of the 
Party do not violate the Party's decisions." 

“But your decision does not apply to me,"^I said. ‘TU be 
damned if I’U act as if it does." 

“Your attitude does not merit our trust," they said. 

I was angry. 

“Look," I exploded, rising and sweeping my arms at the bleak 
attic in which I lived. “What is it here that frightens you? You 
know where I work. You know what I earn. You know my 
friends. Now, what in God's name is wrong?" 

They left with mirthless smiles which implied that I would 
soon know what was wrong. 

But there was relief from these shadowy political bouts. I 
found my work in the South Side Boys' Club deeply engrossing. 
Each day black boys between the ages of eight and twenty-five 
came to swim, draw, and read. They were a wild and homeless 
lot, culturally lost, spiritually disinherited, candidates for the 
clinics, morgues, prisons, reformatories, and the electric chair 
of the state's death house. For hours I listened to their talk of 
planes, women, guns, politics, and crime. Their figures of speech 
were as forceful and colorful as any ever used by English-speak- 
ing people. I kept pencil and paper in my pocket to jot down 
their word-rhythms and reactions. These boys did not fear peo- 
ple to the extent that every man looked like a spy. The Com- 
munists who doubted my motives did not know these boys, 
their twisted dreams, their all too clear destinies; and I doubted 
if I should ever be able to convey to them the tragedy I saw 


Richard Wright 

Party duties broke into my efiEorts at expression. The club 
decided upon a conference of all the Left-Wing writers of the 
Middle West. I supported the idea and argued that the confer- 
ence should deal with craft problems. My arguments were re- 
jected. The conference, the club decided, would deal with 
political questions. I asked for a definition of what was expected 
from the writers — ^books or pohtical activity. Both, was the 
answer. Write a few hours a day and march on the picket line 
the other hours. 

The conference convened with a leading Communist attend- 
ing as adviser. The question debated was: What does the Com- 
munist Party expect from the club? The answer of the 
Communist leader ran from organizing to writing novels. I 
argued that either a man organized or he wrote novels. The 
Party leader said that both must be done. The attitude of the 
Party leader prevailed and Left Fronts for which I had worked 
so long, was voted out of existence. 

I knew now that the club was nearing its end, and I rose and 
stated my gloomy conclusions, recommending that the club dis- 
solve. My "defeatism," as it was called, brought upon my head 
the sharpest disapproval of the Party leader. The conference 
ended with the passing of a multitude of resolutions dealing 
with China, India, Germany, Japan, and conditions afl3icting 
various parts of the earth. But not one idea regarding writing 
had emerged. 

The ideas I had expounded at the conference were linked 
with the suspicions I had roused among the Negro Communists 
on the South Side, and the Communist Party was now certain 
that it had a dangerous enemy in its midst. It was whispered 
that I was trying to lead a secret group in opposition to the 
Party. I had learned that denial of accusations was useless. It 
was now painful to meet a Communist, for I did not know what 
his attitude would be. 

Following the conference, a national John Reed Club Con- 
gress was called. It convened in the summer of 1934 with Left- 
Wing writers attending from aU states. But as the sessions got 

136 Richard Wright 

under way, there was a sense of looseness, bewilderment, and 
dissatisfaction among the writers, most of whom were young, 
eager, and on the verge of doing their best work. No one knew 
what was expected of him, and out of the congress came no 
unifying idea. 

As the congress drew to a close, I attended a caucus to plan 
the future of the clubs. Ten of us met in a Loop hotel room, 
and to my amazement the leaders of the clubs’ national board 
confirmed my criticisms of the manner in which the clubs had 
been conducted. I was excited. Now, I thought, the clubs will 
be given a new lease on life. 

Then I was stunned when I heard a nationally known Com- 
munist announce a decision to dissolve the clubs. Why? I as^ked. 
Because the clubs do not serve the new People’s Front policy, I 
was told. That can be remedied; the clubs can be made healthy 
and broad, I said. No; a bigger and better organization must 
be launched, one in which the leading writers of the nation 
could be included, they said. I was informed that the People’s 
Front policy was now the correct vision of life and that the 
clubs could no longer exist. I asked what was to become of the 
young writers whom the Communist Party had implored to join 
the clubs and who were ineligible for the new group, and there 
was no answer. “This thing is coldl” I exclaimed to myself. To 
effect a swift change in policy, the Communist Party was dump- 
ing one organization, then organizing a new scheme with en- 
tirely new people! 

I found myself arguing alone against the majority opinion, 
and then I made still another amazing discovery. I saw that 
even those who agreed with me would not support me. At that 
meeting I learned that when a man was informed of the wish 
of the Party he submitted, even though he knew with all the 
strength of his brain that the wish was not a wise one, was one 
that would ultimately harm the Party’s interests. 

It was not courage that made me oppose the Party. I simply 
did not know any better. It was inconceivable to me, though 
bred in the lap of Southern hate, that a man could not have 


Richard Wright 

his say. I had spent a third of my life traveling from the place 
of my birth to the North just to talk freely, to escape the 
pressure of fear. And now I was facing fear again. 

Before the congress adjourned, it was decided that another 
congress of American writers would be called in New York the 
following summer, 1935. I was lukewarm to the proposal and 
tried to make up my mind to stand alone, write alone. I was 
already afraid that the stories I had written would not fit into 
the new, oflBcia? mood. Must I discard my plot-ideas and seek 
new ones? No. I could not. My writing was my way of seeing, 
my way of living, my way of feeling; and who could change 
his sight, his sense of direction, his senses? 


The spring of 1935 came and the plans for the writers^ con- 
gress went on apace. For some obscure reason — ^it might have 
been to “save" me — was urged by the local Communists to 
attend and I was named as a delegate. I got time off from my 
job at the South Side Boys’ Club and, along with several other 
delegates, hitchhiked to New York. 

We arrived in the early evening and registered for the con- 
gress sessions. The opening mass meeting was being held at 
Carnegie Hall. I asked about housing accommodations, and 
the New York John Reed Club members, all white members 
of the Communist Party, looked embarrassed. I waited while 
one white Communist called another white Communist to one 
side and discussed what could be done to get me, a black Chi- 
cago Communist, housed. During the trip I had not thought 
of myself as a Negro; I had been mulling over the problems 
of the young Left-Wing writers I knew. Now, as I stood watch- 
ing one white comrade talk franticaUy to another about the 
color of my skin, I felt disgusted. The white comrade returned. 

“Just a moment, comrade," he said to me. TU get a place 
for you." 

“But haven’t you places already?" I asked. “Matters of this 
sort are ironed out in advance." 

138 Richard Wright 

‘Tes/" he admitted in an intimate tone. 'We have some 
addresses here, but we don t know the people. You under- 

“Yes, I understand,” I said, gritting my teeth. 

"But just wait a second,” he said, touching my arm to re- 
assure me. "rU find something.” 

"Listen, don t bother,” I said, trying to keep anger out of my 

"Oh, no,” he said, shaking his head determi&edly. "This is a 
problem and 111 solve it.” 

"It oughtnT to be a problem,” I could not help saying, 

"Oh, I didn't mean that,” he caught himself. 

I cursed under my breath. Several people standing nearby 
observed the white Communist trying to find a black Com- 
munist a place to sleep. I burned with shame. A few minutes 
later the white Communist returned, frantic-eyed, sweating. 

"Did you find anything?” I asked. 

"No, not yet,” he said, panting. "Just a moment. Im going 
to call somebody I know. Say, give me a nickel for the phone.” 

"Forget it,” I said. My legs felt like water. "Ill find a place. 
But rd like to put my suitcase somewhere until after the meet- 
ing tonight.” 

"Do you really think you can find a place?” he asked, trying 
to keep a note of desperate hope out of his voice. - 

"Of course I can,” I said. 

He was still uncertain. He wanted to help me, but he did not 
know how. He locked my bag in a closet, and I stepped to the 
sidewalk wondering where I would sleep that night. I stood 
on the sidewalks of New York with a black skin and prac- 
tically no money, absorbed, not with the burning questions 
of the Left-Wing literary movement in the United States, but 
with the problem of how to get a bath. I presented my 
credentials at Carnegie Hall. The building was jammed with 
people. As I listened to the militant speeches, I found myself 
wondering why in hell I had come. 


Richard Wright 

I went to the sidewalk and stood studying the faces of the 
people. I met a Chicago club member. 

‘'Didn’t you find a place yet?” he asked. 

“No,” I said. “I’d like to try one of the hotels, but, God, I’m 
in no mood to argue with a hotel clerk about my color.” 

“Oh, hell, wait a minute,” he said. 

He scooted off. He returned in a few moments with a big, 
heavy white woman. He introduced us. 

“You can sleep in my place tonight,” she said. 

I walked with her to her apartment and she introduced me 
to her husband. I thanked them for their hospitality and went 
to sleep on a cot in the kitchen. I got up at six, dressed, tapped 
on their door, and bade them goodbye. I went to the sidewalk, 
sat on a bench, took out a pencil and paper, and tried to jot 
down notes for the argument I wanted to make in defense of 
the John Reed Clubs. But the problem of the clubs did not 
seem important. What did seem important was: Could a Negro 
ever live halfway like a human being in this goddamn countey? 

That day I sat through the congress sessions, but what I 
heard did not touch me. That night I found my way to Harlem 
and walked pavements filled with black life. I was amazed, 
when I asked passers-by, to learn that there were practically no 
hotels for Negroes in Harlem. I kept walking. Finally I saw 
a tail, clean hotel; black people were passing the doors and no 
white people were in sight. Confidently I entered and was 
surprised to see a white clerk behind the desk. I hesitated, 

“I’d like a room,” I said. 

“Not here,” he said. 

“But isn’t this Harlem?” I asked. 

“Yes, but this hotel is for white only,” he said. 

“Where is a hotel for colored?” 

“You might try the Y,” he said. 

Half an hour later I found the Negro Young Men’s Christian 
Association, that bulwark of Jim Crowism for young black 
men, got a room, took a bath, and slept for twelve hours. When 
I awakened, I did not want to go to the congress. I lay in bed 

140 Richard Wright 

thinking. ‘Tve got to go it alone. . • . Ive got to leam how 
again. . . r 

I dressed and attended the meeting that was to make the 
final decision to dissolve the clubs. It started briskly. A New 
York Communist writer summed up the history of the clubs 
and made a motion for their dissolution. Debate started, and 
I rose and explained what the clubs had meant to young 
writers and begged for their continuance. I sat down amid 
silence. Debate was closed. The vote was cSlled. The room 
filled with uplifted hands to dissolve. Then came a caU for 
those who disagreed and my hand went up alone. I knew that 
my stand would be interpreted as one of opposition to the 
Communist Party, but I thought: ‘‘The hell with it.” ^ 


With the John Reed Clubs now dissolved, I was free of all 
Party relations. I avoided unit meetings for fear of being sub- 
jected to discipline. Occasionally, a Negro Communist — defy- 
ing the code that enjoined him to shun suspect elements — 
came to my home and informed me of the current charges 
that Communists were bringing against one another. To my 
astonishment I heard that Buddy Nealson had branded me a 
“smuggler of reaction.” 

Buddy Nealson was the Negro who had formulated the 
Communist position for the American Negro; he* had made 
speeches in the Kremlin; he had spoken before Stalin himself. 

“Why does Nealson caU me that?” I asked. 

“He says that you are a petty bourgeois degenerate,” I was 

“What does that mean?” 

“He says that you are corrupting the Party with your ideas.” 


There was no answer. I decided that my relationship with 
tlie Party was about over; I should have to leave it. The attacks 
were growing worse, and my refusal to react incited Nealson 
into coining more absurd phrases. I was termed a “bastard in- 


Richard Wright 

tellectual " an *%cipient Trotskyite’^; it was claimed that I pos- 
sessed an "anti-leadership attitude” and that I was manifesting 
"seraphim tendencies,” a phrase meaning that one has with- 
drawn from the struggle of life and considers oneself infallible. 

Working all day and writing half the night brought me 
down with a severe chest ailment. While I was ill, a knock 
came at my door one morning. My mother admitted Ed Green, 
the man who had demanded to know what use I planned to 
make of the material I was collecting from the comrades. I 
stared at him as I lay abed, and I knew that he considered me 
a clever and sworn enemy of the Party. Bitterness welled up in 

"What do you want?” I asked bluntly. 'TTou see Im ill.” 

"I have a message from the Party for you,” he said. 

I had not said good day, and he had not ofiFered to say it. 
He had not smiled, and neither had I. He looked curiously at 
my bleak room. 

"This is the home of a bastard intellectual,” I cut at him. 

He stared without blinking. I could not endure his standing 
there so stonelike. Common decency made me say, "Sit down.” 

His shoulders stiffened. 

"Im in a hurry.” He spoke like an army oflBcer. 

"What do you want to teU me?” 

"Do you know Buddy Nealson?” he asked. 

I was suspicious. Was this a political trap? 

"What about Buddy Nealson?” I asked, committing myself 
to nothing until I knew the kind of reality I was grappling 

"He wants to see you,” Ed Green said. 

"What about?” I asked, still suspicious. 

"He wants to talk with you about your Party work,” he said. 

"Pm ill and canT see hhn until I^m well,” I said. 

Green stood for a fraction of a second, then turned on his 
heel and marched out of the room. 

When my chest healed, I sought an appointment with Buddy 
Nealson. He was a short, black man with an ever ready smile. 

142 Richard Wright 

thick lips, a furtive manner, and a greasy, sweaty look. His 
bearing was nervous, self-conscious; he seemed always to be 
hiding some deep irritation. He spoke in short, jerky sentences, 
hopping nimbly from thought to thought, as though his mind 
worked in a free, associational manner. He suffered from 
asthma and would snort at unexpected intervals. Now and 
then he would punctuate his flow of words by taking a nip 
from a bottle of whiskey. He had traveled ^half around the 
world and his talk was pitted with vague allusions to Euro- 
pean cities. I met him in his apartment, listened to him in- 
tently, observed him minutely, for I knew that I was facing 
one of the leaders of World Communism. 

"Hello, Wright,” he snorted. "IVe heard about you.” 

As we shook hands, he burst into a loud, seemingly cause- 
less laugh; and as he guffawed, I could not tell whether his 
mirth was directed at me or was meant to hide his uneasiness. 

"I hope what you ve heard about me is good,” I parried. 

"Sit down,” he laughed again, waving me to a chair. *"Yes, 
they tell me you write.” 

"I try to,” I said. 

^Tou can write,” he snorted. T read that article you wrote 
for the New Masses about Joe Louis. Good stuff. First political 
treatment of sports we ve yet had. Ha-ha.” 

I waited. I had thought that I should encounter a man of 
ideas, but he was not that. Then perhaps he was a man of 
action? But that was not indicated either. 

"They tell me that you are a friend of Ross,” he shot at me. 

I paused before answering. He had not asked me directly, 
but had hinted in a neutral, teasing way. Ross, I had been told, 
was slated for expulsion from the Party on the ground that he 
was "anti-leadership”; and if a member of the Communist In- 
ternational was asking me if I was a friend of a man about to 
be expelled, he was indirectly asking me if I was loyal or not. 

"Ross is not particularly a friend of mine,” I said frankly. 
"But I know him well; in fact, quite well.” 

"If he isn’t your friend, how do you happen to know him so 

Richard Wright 143 

well?’^ lie asked, laughing to soften the hard threat of his 

“I was writing an account of his life and I know him as well, 
perhaps, as anybody,’’ I told him. 

'"1 heard about that,” he said. "Wright. Ha-ha. Say, let me 
call you Dick, huh?” 

“Go ahead,” I said. 

“Dick,” he said, “Ross is a nationalist.” He paused to let the 
weight of his accusation sink in. He meant that Ross’s mihtancy 
was extreme. "We Communists don’t dramatize Negro nation- 
alism,” he said in a voice that laughed, accused and drawled. 

"What do you mean?” I asked. 

"We’re not advertising Ross.” He spoke directly now. 

"We’re talking about two diSerent things,” I said. ""You seem 
worried about my making Ross popular because he is your 
poHtical opponent. But I’m not concerned about Ross’s politics 
at all. The man struck me as one who typified certain traits 
of the Negro migrant. I’ve already sold a story based upon an 
incident in his life.” 

Nealson became excited. 

"What was the incident?” he asked. 

“Some trouble he got into when he was thirteen years old,” 
I said. 

“Oh, I thought it was political,” he said, shrugging. 

“But I’m telling you that you are wrong about that,” I ex- 
plained. “I’m not trying to fight you with my writing. I’ve no 
political ambitions. You must believe that. I’m trying to depict 
Negro life.” 

“Have you finished writing about Ross?” 

“No,” I said. ‘T dropped the idea. Our Party members were 
suspicious of me and were afraid to talk.” He laughed. 

“Dick,” he began, "‘we’re short of forces. We’re facing a 
grave crisis.” 

“The Party’s always facing a crisis,” I said. 

His smile left and he stared at me. 

“You’re not cynical, are you, Dick?” he asked. 

144 Richard Wright 

‘‘No,"" I said. *‘But its the truth. Each week, each month 
there’s a crisis.” 

"You’re a funny guy,” he said, laughing, snorting again. 
“But we’ve a job to do. We’re altering our work. Fascism’s the 
danger, the danger now to all people.” 

“I understand,” I said. 

“We’ve got to defeat the Fascists,” he said, snorting from 
asthma. “"We’ve discussed you and know your abilities. We 
want you to work with us. We’ve got to crash out of our nar- 
row way of working and get our message to the church people, 
students, club people, professionals, middle class.” 

“I’ve been called names,” I said softly. “Is that crashing out 
of the narrow way?” ^ 

“Forget that,” he said. 

He had not denied the name-caUing. That meant that, if I 
did not obey him, the name-caUing would begin again. 

“I don’t know if I fit into things,” I said openly, 

*We want to trust you with an important assignment,” he 

"What do you want me to do?” 

"We want you to organize a committee against the high cost 
of living.” 

""The high cost of living?” I exclaimed. "What do I know 
about such things?” 

"‘It’s easy. You can learn,” he said. 

I was in the midst of writing a novel and he was calling me 
from it to tabulate the price of groceries. “He doesn’t Slink 
much of what I’m trying to do,” I thought. 

“Comrade Nealson,” I said, “a writer who hasn’t written any- 
thing worth-while is a most doubtful person. Now, I’m in that 
category. Yet I think I can write. I don’t want to ask for 
special favors, but I’m in the midst of a book which I hope 
to complete in six months or so. Let me convince myself that 
I’m wrong about my hankering to write and then I’ll be with 
you all the way.” 

“Dick.” he said, turning in his chair and waving his hand as 

Richard Wright 145 

though to brush away an insect that was annoying him, "youVe 
got to get to the masses of people.” 

‘TTou Ve seen some of my work,” I said. *lsn’t it just barely 
good enough to warrant my being given a chance?” 

‘‘The Party can’t deal with your feelings,” he said. 

"Maybe I don’t belong in the Party,” I stated it in full. 

"Oh, no! Don’t say that,” he said, snorting. He looked at me. 
"You’re blunt.” 

"I put things the way I feel them,” I said. "I want to start 
in right with you. I’ve had too damn much crazy trouble in the 

He laughed and lit a cigarette. 

"Diipk,” he said, shaking his head, "the trouble with you is 
that you’ve been around with those white artists on the North 
Side too much. You even talk like ’em. You’ve got to know 
your own people.” 

“I think I know them ” I said, realizing that I could never 
really talk with him. "I’ve been inside of three-fourths of the 
Negroes’ homes on the South Side.” 

"But you’ve got to work with ’em,” he said. 

"I was working with Ross until I was suspected of being a 
spy,” I said. 

"Dick,” he spoke seriously now, "the Party has decided that 
you are to accept this task.” 

I was sileht. I knew the meaning of what he had said. A 
decision was the highest injunction that a Communist could 
receive from his Party, and to break a decision was to break 
the effectiveness of tibe Party’s ability to act. In principle I 
heartily agreed with this, for I knew that it was impossible for 
working people to forge instruments of political power until 
they had achieved unity of action. Oppressed for centuries, 
divided, hopeless, corrupted, misled, they were cynical — as I 
had once been — and the Communist method of unity had been 
found historically to be the only means of achieving discipline. 
In short, Nealson had asked me directly if I were a Communist 
or not. I wanted to be a Communist, but my kind of Com- 

146 Richard Wright 

munist I wanted to shape people’s feeling, awaken their 
hearts. But I could not teU Nealson that; he would only have 

‘Ill organize the committee and turn it over to someone 
else,” I suggested. 

“You don’t want to do this, do you?” he asked. 

“No ” I said firmly. 

“What would you like to do on the South Side, then?” 

“I’d like to organize Negro artists,” I said.*" 

“But the Party doesn’t need that now,” he said. 

I rose, knowing that he had no intention of letting me go 
after I had organized the committee. I wanted to tell him that 
I was through, but I was not ready to bring matters to a^head, 
I went out, angry with myself, angry with him, angry with the 
Party. Well, I had not broken the decision, but neither had I 
accepted it wholly. I had dodged, trying to save time for writ- 
ing, time to think. 


My task consisted in attending meetings until the late hours 
of the night, taking part in discussions, or lending myself gen- 
erally along with other Communists in leading the people of 
the South Side. We debated the housing situation, the best 
means of forcing the city to authorize open hearings on con- 
ditions among Negroes. I gritted my teeth as the daily value 
of pork chops was tabulated, longing to be at home with my 

Nealson was cleverer than I and he confronted me before I 
had a chance to confront him. I was summoned one night to 
meet Nealson and a “friend.” When I arrived at a South Side 
hotel, I was introduced to a short, yellow man who carried 
himself like Napoleon. He wore glasses, kept his full lips pursed 
as though he were engaged in perpetual thought. He swaggered 
when he walked. He spoke slowly, precisely, trying to charge 
each of his words with more meaning than the words were 
able to carry. He talked of trivial things in lofty tones. He said 


Richard Wright 

that his name was Smith, that he was from Washington, that 
he planned to launch a national organization among Negroes 
to federalize all existing Negro institutions so as to achieve a 
broad unity of action. The three of us sat at a table facing one 
another. I knew that another and last oflEer was about to be 
made to me, and if I did not accept it, there would be open 

"Wright, how would you like to go to Switzerland?” Smith 
asked with dram'atic suddenness, 

"I^d like it,” I said. "But Im tied up with work now.” 

"You can drop that,” Nealson said. "This is important.” 

"What would I do in Switzerland?” I asked. 

^‘You 11 go as a youth delegate,” Smith said. "From there you 
can go to the Soviet Union.” 

"Much as Td like to, Im afraid I canT make it,” I said hon- 
estly. "I simply cannot drop the writing I’m doing now.” 

We sat looking at one another, smoking silently. 

"Has Nealson told you how I feel?” I asked Smith. 

Smith did not answer. He stared at me a long time, then 
spat: "Wright, you’re a fool!” 

I rose. Smith turned away from me. A breath more of anger 
and I should have driven my fist into his face. Nealson laughed 
sheepishly, snorting. 

"Was that necessary?” I asked, trembling. 

I stood retailing how, in my boyhood, I would have fought 
until blood ran had anyone said anything like that to me. But 
I was a man now and master of my rage, able to control the 
surging emotions. I put on my hat and walked to the door. 
"Keep cool,” I said to myself. "Don’t let this get out of hand.” 

"This is goodbye,” I said. 

I attended the next unit meeting and asked for a place 
on the agenda, which was readily granted. Nealson was 4ere. 
Evans was there. Ed Green was there. When my time came to 
speak, I said: 

"Comrades, for the past two years I’ve worked daily with 
most of you. Despite this, I have for some time found myself 

148 Richard Wright 

in a diflBcult position in the Party. What caused this difiSculty 
is a long story which I do not care to recite now; it would serve 
no purpose. But I tell you honestly that I think Ive found a 
solution of my difficulty. I am proposing here tonight that my 
membership be dropped from the Party rolls. No ideological 
differences impel me to say this. I simply do not wish to be 
bound any longer by the Party’s decisions. I should like to re- 
tain my membership in those organizations in which the Party 
has influence, and I shall comply with the^ Party’s program 
in those organizations. I hope that my words will be accepted 
in the spirit in which they are said. Perhaps sometime in the 
future I can meet and talk with the leaders of the Party as to 
what tasks I can best perform.” ^ 

I sat down amid a profound silence. The Negro secretary 
of the meeting looked frightened, glancing at Nealson, Evans, 
and Ed Green. 

there any discussion on Comrade Wright’s statement?” 
the secretary asked finally. 

‘T move that discussion on Wright’s statement be deferred,” 
Nealson said. 

A quick vote confirmed Nealson’s motion. I looked about the 
silent room, then reached for my hat and rose. 

"I should like to go now,” I said. 

No one said anything. I walked to the door and, out into the 
night and a heavy burden seemed to lift from my shoulders. I 
was free. And I had done it in a decent and forthright manner. 
I had not been bitter. I had not raked up a single recrimina- 
tion. I had attacked no one. I had disavowed notiiing. 

The next night two Negro Communists called at my home. 
They pretended to be ignorant of what had happened at the 
unit meeting. Patiently, I explained what had occurred. 

‘Tour story does not agree with what Nealson says,” they 
said, revealing the motive of their visit. 

"And what does Nealson say?” I asked. 

"He says that you are in league with a Trotskyite group. 

Richard Wright 149 

and that you made an appeal for other Party members to fol- 
low you in leaving the Party 

‘What?” I gasped. "Thafs not true. I asked that my mem- 
bership be dropped. I raised no political issues.” What did this 
mean? I sat pondering. ‘‘Look, maybe I ought to make my 
break with the Party clean. If Nealson’s going to act this way, 
111 resign.” 

"You canl resign,” they told me. 

"What do you mean?” I demanded. 

"No one can resign from the Communist Party.” 

I looked at them and laughed. 

‘Toule talking cra 2 y,” I said. 

"Nealson would expel you publicly, cut the ground from 
under your feet if you resigned,” they said. "People would 
think that something was wrong if someone like you quit here 
on the South Side.” 

I was angry. Was the Party so weak and uncertain of itself 
that it could not accept what I had said at the unit meeting? 
Who thought up such tactics? Then, suddenly, I understood. 
These were the secret, underground tactics of the political 
movement of the Communists under the czars of Old Russia! 
The Communist Party felt that it had to assassinate me morally 
merely because I did not want to be bound by its decisions. 
I saw now that my comrades were acting out a fantasy that 
had no relation whatever to the reality of their environment. 

"Tell Nealson that if he fights me, then, by God, Til fight 
him,” I said. "If he leaves this damn thing where it is, then 
all right. If he thinks I won't fight him publicly, he's crazy!” 

I was not able to know if my statement reached Nealson. 
There was ho public outcry against me, but in the ranks of 
the Party itself a storm broke loose and I was branded a 
traitor, an unstable personality, and one whose faith had 

My comrades had known me, my family, my friends; they, 
God knows, had known my aching poverty. But they had 
never been able to conquer their fear of the individual way in 

150 Richard Wright 

which I acted and Hved, an individuality which life had seared 
into my bones. 


I was transferred by the relief authorities from the South 
Side Boys’ Club to the Federal Negro Theater to work as a 
publicity agent. There were days when I was acutely hungry 
for the incessant analyses that went on among the comrades, 
but whenever I heard news of the Party’s inner life, it was 
of charges and countercharges, reprisals and counter-reprisals. 

The Federal Negro Theater, for which I was doing publicity, 
had run a series of ordinary plays, all of which had been 
revamped to “Negro style,” with jungle scenes, spirituals, and 
all. For example, the skinny white woman who directed it, an 
elderly missionary type, would take a play whose characters 
were white, whose theme dealt with the Middle Ages, and 
recast it in terms of Southern Negro life with overtones of 
African backgrounds. Contemporary plays dealing realistically 
with Negro life were spumed as being controversial. There 
were about forty Negro actors and actresses in the theater, 
loUing about, yearning, disgruntled. 

What a waste of talent, I thought. Here was an opportunity 
for the production of a worth-while Negro drama and no one 
was aware of it. I studied the situation, then laid the matter 
before white friends of mine who held influential positions in 
the Works Progress Administration. I asked them to replace 
the white woman — ^mcluding her quaint aesthetic notions — 
with someone who knew the Negro and the theater. They 
promised me that they would act. 

Within a month the white woman director had been trans- 
ferred. We moved from the South Side to the Loop and were 
housed in a first-rate theater. I successfully recommended 
Charles DeSheim, a talented Jew, as director. DeSheim and I 
held long talks during which I outlined what I thought could 
be accomplished. I urged that our first offering should be a 
biU of three one-act plays, including Paul Green’s Hymn to 


Richard Wright 

the Rising Sun, a grim, poetical, powerful one-acter dealing 
with chain-gang conditions in the South. 

I was happy. At last I was in a position to make suggestions 
and have them acted upon. I was convinced that we had a 
rare chance to build a genuine Negro theater. I convoked a 
meeting and introduced DeSheim to the Negro company, tell- 
ing them that he was a man who knew the theater, who would 
lead them toward serious dramatics. DeSheim made a speech 
wherein he said^hat he was not at the theater to direct it, 
but to help the Negroes to direct it. He spoke so simply and 
eloquently that they rose and applauded him. 

I then proudly passed out copies of Paul Green's Hymn to 
the Rising Sun to all members of the company. DeSheim 
assigned readmg parts. I sat down to enjoy adult Negro dra- 
matics. But something went wrong. The Negroes stammered 
and faltered in their lines. Finally they stopped reading alto- 
gether. DeSheim looked frightened. One of the Negro actors 

"Mr. DeSheim," he began, "we think this play is indecent. 
We don't want to act in a play Kke this before the American 
pubhc. I don't thmk any such conditions exist in the South. 
I lived in the South and I never saw any chain gangs. Mr. 
DeSheim, we want a play that will make the public love us." 

"What kind of play do you want?" DeSheim asked them. 

They did not know. I went to the ofiBce and looked up their 
records and found that most of them had spent their lives 
playing cheap vaudeville because the legitimate theater was 
barred to them, and now it turned out they wanted none of 
the legitimate theater, that they were scared spitless at the 
prospects of appearing in a play that the public might not 
like, even though they did not understand that public and 
had no way of determining its likes or dislikes. 

I felt — ^but only temporarily — ^that perhaps the whites were 
right, that Negroes were children and would never grow up. 
DeSheim informed the company that he would produce any 

152 Richard Wright 

play they liked, and they sat like frightened mice, possessing 
no words to make known their vague desires. 

When I arrived at the theater a few mornings later, I was 
horrified to find that the company had drawn up a petition 
demanding the ousting of DeSheim. I was asked to sign the 
petition and I refused. 

"Don^t you know your friends?” I asked them. 

They glared at me. I called DeSheim to the theater and we 
went into a frantic conference. 

"What must I do?” he asked. 

"Take them into your confidence,” I said. "Let them know 
that it is their right to petition for a redress of their grievances.” 

DeSheim thought my advice sound and, accordingly, he 
assembled the company and told them that they had a right 
to petition against him if they wanted to, but that he thought 
any misunderstandings that existed could be settled smoothly. 

‘Who told you that we were getting up a petition?” a black 
man demanded, 

DeSheim looked at me and stammered wordlessly. 

"There's an Uncle Tom in the theater!” a black girl yelled. 

After the meeting a delegation of Negro men came to my 
office and took out their pocketknives and flashed them in my 

"You get the hell off this job before we cut your bellybutton 
out!” they said. 

I telephoned my white friends in the Works Progress Admin- 
istration: "Transfer me at once to another job, or 111 be 

Within twenty-four hours DeSheim and I were given our 
papers. We shook hands and went our separate ways. 

I was transferred to a white experimental theatrical com- 
pany as a publicity agent and I resolved to keep my ideas to 
myself, or, better, to write them down and not attempt to 
translate them into reality. 


Richard Wright 

One evening a group of Negro Communists called at my 
home and asked to speak to me in strict secrecy. I took them 
into my room and locked the door. 

"‘Dick/^ they began abruptly, “the Party wants you to attend 
a meeting Sunday.” 

^Why?” I asked. “Fm no longer a member.” 

“That’s all right. They want you to be present,” they said. 

“Communists don’t speak to me on the street, I said. “Now, 
why do you want me at a meeting?” 

They hedged. They did not want to tell me. 

“If you can’t tell me, then I can’t come,” I said. 

They whispered among themselves and finally decided to 
take^me into their confidence, 

“Dick, Ross is going to be tried,” they said. 

“For what?” 

They recited a long list of political offenses of which they 
alleged that he was guilty. 

“But what has that got to do with me?” 

“If you come, you’ll find out,” they said. 

“I’m not that naive,” I said. I was suspicious now. Were 
they trying to lure me to a trial and expel me? “This trial 
might turn out to be mine.” 

They swore that they had no intention of placing me on 
trial, that the Party merely wanted me to observe Ross’s trial 
so that I might learn what happened to “enemies of the work- 
ing class.” 

As they talked, my old love of witnessing something new 
came over me. I wanted to see this trial, but I did not want 
to risk being placed on trial myself. 

“Listen,” I told them. “I’m not guilty of Nealson’s charges. 
If I showed up at this trial, it would seem that I am ” 

“No, it won’t. Please come.” 

“AH right. But, listen. If I’m tricked. I’ll fight. You hear? I 
don’t trust Nealson. I’m not a politician and I cannot anticipate 
all the funny moves of a man who spends his waking hours 

154 Richard Wright 

Ross’s trial took place that following Sunday afternoon. 
Comrades stood inconspicuously on guard about the meeting 
hall, at the doors, down the street, and along the hallways. 
When I appeared, I was ushered in quickly. I was tense. It 
was a rule that once you had entered a meeting of this kind 
you could not leave until the meeting was over; it was feared 
that you might go to the police and denounce them all. 

Ross, the accused, sat alone at a table in the front of the 
hall, his face distraught. I felt sorry for him; yet I could not 
escape feeling that he enjoyed this. For him, this was perhaps 
the highlight of an otherwise bleak existence. 

In trying to grasp why Communists hated intellectuals, my 
mind was led back again to the accounts I had read of the 
Russian Revolution. There had existed in Old Russia millions 
of poor, ignorant people who were exploited by a few edu- 
cated, arrogant noblemen, and it became natural for the 
Russian Communists to associate betrayal with inteUectualism. 
But there existed in the Western world an element that 
baffled and frightened the Communist Party: the prevalence 
of self-achieved literacy. Even a Negro, entrapped by igno- 
rance and exploitation — ^as I had been — could, if he had the 
will and the love for it, learn to read and understand the 
world in which he lived. And it was these people that the Com- 
munists could not understand. 

The trial began in a quiet, informal manner. The comrades 
acted like a group of neighbors sitting in judgment upon one 
of their kind who had stolen a chicken. Anybody could ask 
and get the floor. There was absolute freedom of speech. Yet 
the meeting had an amazingly formal structure of its own, a 
structure that went as deep as the desire of men to live to- 

A member of the Central Committee of the Communist 
Party rose and gave a description of the world situation. He 
spoke without emotion and piled up hard facts. He painted a 
horrible but masterful picture of Fascism’s aggression in Ger- 
many, Italy, and Japan. 

Richard Wright 155 

I accepted the reason why the trial began in this manner. 
It was imperative that here be postulated against what or 
whom Ross’s crimes had been committed. Therefore there 
had to be established in the minds of all present a vivid picture 
of mankind under oppression. And it was a true picture. Per- 
haps no organization on earth, save the Communist Party, 
possesses so detailed a knowledge of how workers lived, for 
its sources of information stemmed directly from the workers 

The next speaker discussed the role of the Soviet Union as 
the world s lone workers’ state — ^how the Soviet Union was 
hemmed in by enemies, how the Soviet Union was trying to 
industrialize itself, what sacrifices it was making to help 
workers of the world to steer a path toward peace through the 
idea of collective security. 

The facts presented so far were as true as any facts could 
be in this uncertain world. Yet not one word had been said of 
the accused, who sat listening like any other member. The 
time had not yet come to include him and his crimes in this 
picture of global struggle. An absolute had first to be estab- 
lished in the minds of the comrades so that they could measmre 
the success or failure of their deeds by it. 

Finally a speaker came forward and spoke of Chicago’s 
South Side, its Negro population, their suffering and handi- 
caps, linking all that also to the world struggle. Then still an- 
other speaker followed and described the tasks of the Com- 
munist Party of the South Side. At last, the world, the national, 
and the local pictures had been fused into one overwhelming 
drama of moral struggle in which everybody in the hall was 
participating. This presentation had lasted for more than three 
hours, but it had enthroned a new sense of reality in the hearts 
of those present, a sense of man on earth. With the exception 
of the church and its myths and legends, there was no agency 
in the world so capable of making men feel the earth and the 
people upon it as the Communist Party. 

Toward evening the direct charges against Ross were made. 

156 Richard Wright 

not by the leaders of the Party, but by Ross’s friends, those 
who knew him best! It was crushing. Ross wilted. His emo- 
tions could not withstand the weight of the moral pressure. 
No one was terrorized into giving information against him. 
They gave it willingly, citing dates, conversations, scenes. 
The black mass of Ross’s wrongdoing emerged slowly and 

The moment came for Ross to defend himself. I had been 
told that he had arranged for friends to testify in his behalf, 
but he called upon no one. He stood, trembling; he tried to 
talk and his words would not come. The hall was as stiU as 
death. Guilt was written in every pore of his black skin. His 
hands shook. He held on to the edge of the table to keep on 
his feet. His personality, his sense of himself, had been 
obliterated. Yet he could not have been so humbled unless 
he had shared and accepted the vision that had crushed him, 
the common vision that bound us all together. 

"Comrades,” he said in a low, charged voice, "Im guilty of 
all the charges, all of them.” 

His voice broke in a sob. No one prodded him. No one 
tortured him. No one threatened him. He was free to go out 
of the hall and never see another Communist. But he did not 
want to. He could not. The vision of a communal world had 
sunk down into his soul and it would never leave him until 
life left him. He talked on, outlining how he had erred, how 
he would reform. 

I knew, as I sat there, that there were many people who 
thought they knew life who had been skeptical of the Moscow 
trials. But they could not have been skeptical had they wit- 
nessed this astonishing trial. Ross had not been doped; he had 
been awakened. It was not a fear of the Communist Party 
that had made him confess, but a fear of the punishment that 
he would exact of himself that made him tell of his wrong- 
doings. The Communists had talked to him until they had 
given him new eyes with which to see his own crime. And 
then they sat back and listened to him tell how he had erred. 


Richard Wright 

He was one with all the members there, regardless of race or 
color; his heart was theirs and their hearts were his; and when 
a man reaches that state of kinship with others, that degree 
of oneness, or when a trial has made him kin after he has been 
sundered from them by wrongdoing, then he must rise and 
say, out of a sense of the deepest morality in the world: TLm 
guilty. Forgive me.'' 

This, to me, was a spectacle of glory; and yet, because it 
had condemnecfme, because it was blind and ignorant, I felt 
that it was a spectacle of horror. The blindness of their 
limited lives — Olives truncated and impoverished by the oppres- 
sion they had suflFered long before they had ever heard of 
Conjmunism — ^made them think that I was with their enemies. 
American life had so corrupted their consciousness that they 
were unable to recognize their friends when they saw them, 
I knew that if they had held state power I should have been 
declared guilty of treason and my execution would have fol- 
lowed. And I knew that they felt, vdth all the strength of 
their black blindness, that they were right. 

I could not stay until the end. I was anxious to get out of 
the hall and into the streets and shake free from the gigantic 
tension that had hold of me. I rose and went to the door; a 
comrade shook his head, warning me that I could not leave 
until the trial had ended. 

*"You cant leave now," he said. 

T[ m going out of here,” I said, my anger making my voice 
louder than I intended. 

We glared at each other. Another comrade came runnmg up. 
I stepped forward. The comrade who had rushed up gave the 
signal for me to be allowed to leave. They did not want 
violence, and neither did I. They stepped aside. 

I went into the dark Chicago streets and walked home 
through the cold, filled with a sense of sadness. Once again 
I told myself that I must learn to stand alone. I did not feel 
so wounded by their rejection of me that I wanted to spend 
my days bleating about what they had done. Perhaps what I 

158 Richard Wright 

had already learned to feel in my childhood saved me from 
that futile path. I lay in bed that night and said to myself; 
‘111 be for them, even though they are not for me.'' 


From the Federal Experimental Theater I was transferred to 
the Federal Writers’ Project, and I tried to earn my bread by 
writing guidebooks. Many of the writers on the project were 
members of the Communist Party and they l&pt their revolu- 
tionary vows that restrained them from speaking to “traitors 
of the working class.” I sat beside them in the oflSce, ate next 
to them in restaurants, and rode up and down in the elevators 
with them, but they always looked straight ahead, wordlessly. 

After working on the project for a few months, I was made 
acting supervisor of essays and straightway I ran into political 
difficulties. One morning the administrator of the project called 
me into his office. 

‘Wright, who are your friends on this project?" he asked. 

“I don't know,” I said, “Why?” 

‘Well, you ought to find out soon,” he said. 

“What do you mean?” 

“Some people are asking for your removal on the ground 
that you are incompetent,” he said. 

“Who are they?” 

He named several of my erstwhile comrades. Yes, it had 
come to that. They were trying to take the bread out of my 

‘What do you propose to do about their complaints?” I 

“Nothing,” he said, laughing. ‘T think I understand what’s 
happening here. I’m not going to let them drive you off this 

I thanked him and rose to go to the door. Something in his 
words had not sounded right. I turned and faced him. 

“This job?” I repeated. ‘What do you mean?” 

“You mean to say that you don’t know?” he aske^. 


Richard Wright 

"Know what? What are you talking about?’^ 

^"Why did you leave the Federal Negro Theater?” 

"I had trouble there. They drove me off the job, the Negroes 

"And you don’t think that they had any encouragement?” 
he asked me ironically. 

I sat again. This was deadly. I gaped at him. 

"You needn’t fear here,” he said. "You work, write.” 

"It’s hard to iJelieve that,” I murmured. 

"Forget it,” he said. 

But the worst was yet to come. One day at noon I closed 
my desk and went down in the elevator, ^^en I reached the 
first jBioor of the building, I saw a picket line moving to and 
fro in the streets. Many of the men and women carrying 
placards were old friends of mine, and they were chanting 
for higher wages for Works Progress Administration artists 
and writers. It was not the kind of picket line that one was 
not supposed to cross, and as I started away from the door 
I heard my name shouted: 

^There’s Wright, that goddamn Trotskyitel” 

^We know you, you — I” 

"Wright’s a traitor!” 

For a moment it seemed that I ceased to live. I had now 
reached that point where I was cursed aloud in the busy 
streets of America’s second-largest city. It shook me as noth- 
ing else had. 

Days passed. I continued on my job, where I functioned as 
the shop chairman of the union which I had helped to organ- 
ize, though my election as shop chairman had been bitterly 
opposed by the Party. In their efforts to nuUffy my influence 
in the union, my old comrades were willing to kiU the union 

As May Day of 1936 approached, it was voted by the union 
membership that we should march in the public procession. 
On the morning of May Day I received printed instructions 
as to the^time and place where our union contingent would 

160 Richard Wright 

assemble to join the parade. At noon, I hurried to the spot 
and found that the parade was already in progress. In vain I 
searched for the banners of my union local. Where were they? 
I went up and down the streets, asking for the location of 
my local. 

"Oh, that local’s gone fifteen minutes ago,” a Negro told 
me. "If you’re going to march, you’d better fall in somewhere.” 

I thanked him and walked through the milling crowds. 
Suddenly I heard my name called. I turned. To my left was 
the Communist Party’s South Side section, lined up and ready 
to march. 

"Come here!” an old Party friend called to me. 

I walked over to him. 

"Aren’t you marching today?” he asked me. 

"I missed my union local,” I told him. 

"What the heU,” he said. "March with us.” 

"I don’t know,” I said, remembering my last visit to the 
headquarters of the Party, and my status as an “enemy.” 

“This is May Day,” he said. “Get into the ranks.” 

“You know the trouble I’ve had,” I said. 

“That’s nothing,” he said. “Everybody’s marching today.” 

“I don’t think I’d better,” I said, shaking my head. 

“Are you scared?” he asked. “This is May Day” 

He caught my right arm and puUed me into line beside him. 
I stood talking to him, asking about his work, about common 

“Get out of our ranks!” a voice barked. 

I turned. A white Communist, a leader of the district of the 
Communist Party, Cy Perry, a slender, close-cropped fellow, 
stood glaring at me. 

“I — ^It’s May Day and I want to march,” I said. 

“Get out!” he shouted. 

“I was invited here,” I said. 

I turned to the Negro Communist who had invited me into 
the ranks. I did not want public violence, I looked at my 

Richard Wright 161 

friend. He turned Ixis eyes away. He was afraid, I did not 
know what to do. 

“You asked me to march here,"’ I said to him. 

He did not answer. 

“Tell him that you did invite me,"" I said, puUing his sleeve. 

“Tm asking you for the last time to get out of our ranks!” 
Cy Perry shouted. 

I did not move. I had intended to, but I was beset by so 
many impulses tJiat I could not act. Another white Communist 
came to assist Perry. Perry caught hold of my collar and 
pulled at me. I resisted. They held me fast. I struggled to free 

“Tiim me loose!” I said. 

Hands lifted me bodily from the sidewalk; I felt myself 
being pitched headlong through the air. I saved myself from 
landing on my head by clutching a curbstone with my hands. 
Slowly I rose and stood. Perry and his assistant were glaring 
at me. The rows of white and black Communists were looking 
at me with cold eyes of nonrecognition. I could not quite be- 
lieve what had happened, even though my hands were smart- 
ing and bleeding. I had suflFered a public, physical assault by 
two white Communists with black Communists looking on. 
I could not move from the spot. I was empty of any idea about 
what to do.^ But I did not feel belligerent. I had outgrown my 

Suddenly, the vast ranks of the Communist Party began to 
move. Scarlet banners with the hammer and sickle emblem 
of world revolution were Hfted, and they fluttered m the May 
breeze. Drums beat. Voices were chanting. The tramp of 
many feet shook the earth. A long line of set-faced men and 
women, white and black, flowed past me, 

I followed the procession to the Loop and went into Grant 
Park Plaza and sat upon a bench. I was not thinking; I could 
not think. But an objectivity of vision was being bom within 
me. A surging sweep of many odds and ends came together 
and formed an attitude, a perspective. “They re blind,” I said 


Richard Wright 

to myseE ‘Their enemies have blinded them wiih too much 
oppression/' I lit a cigarette and I heard a song floating over 
the sunlit air: 

Arise, you 'prisoners of starvation! 

I remembered the stories I had written, the stories in which 
I had assigned a role of honor and glory to the Communist 
Party, and I was glad that they were down in black and white, 
were finished. For I knew in my heart that I should never be 
able to write that way again, should never be able to feel with 
that simple sharpness about life, should never again express 
such passionate hope, should never again make so total a com- 
mitment of faith. 

A better worlds in birth. . . . 

The procession still passed. Banners still floated. Voices of 
hope stfll chanted. 


I headed toward home alone, really alone now, telling myself 
that in aU the sprawling immensity of our mighty continent 
the least-known factor of living was the human heart, the 
least-sought goal of being was a way to live a human life. 
Perhaps, I thought, out of my tortured feelings I could fling a 
spark into this darkness. I would try, not because I wanted 
to, but because I felt that I had to if I were to live at all. 

I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an 
echo; and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would 
send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense 
of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our 
hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human. 


Worshipers from Afar 

Andre Gide 

Foreword hy Enid Starkie 

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Enid Starkie was born in Killiney, Co. 
Dublin, Ireland, daughter of the late Right Honorable W. /. M. 
Starkie, Greek scholar and last High Commissioner of Educa- 
tion under British rule in Ireland. She was educated at Alex-- 
andra College, Dublin, and Somerville College, Oxford, where 
she held scholarships, and at the Sorbonne in Paris. She special- 
izes in French literature and obtained a First Class Honors 
Degree at Oxford, the Doctorate of Paris University, the 
D.Litt. of Oxford, and was awarded the LSgion (PHonneur for 
her contribution to French literature. 

Her works include studies, in English and French, of Rim- 
baud, Baudelaire, and other French writers — one of which was 
couronne by the French Academy. She now holds the post of 
Reader in French literature at the University of Oxford and 
is a Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford. 

In tie nineteen-twenties an immense change came over 
Andre Gide. From the tormented introvert whom we knew in 
the early works, he was transformed into the serene philos- 
opher whom we know today. He cast aside self-torture and 
hair-splitting about motive and guilt to become what he 
thought was finally himself. “I allow all contradictions free 
play in me,’^ he said. With his liberation from personal conflict 
he was freed from obsession with self and had energy to spare 


Andf6 Gide 


for objective considerations — ^not merely for the problem of 
guilt and personal liberty. In July, 1925, after he had finished 
Les faux monnayeurs, he set out on the African expedition 
from which he was to return only a year later. In the French 
equatorial possessions he was horrified to see the exploitation 
of the natives by their white masters and, when he came home, 
he said, ^‘Henceforth an immense lamentation abides in me.** 
Then he wrote to his friend Charles du Bos, "I would like not 
only to attain happiness myself but to make others reach it 
as well. I consider that it consists in the surrender of self. That 
is why to feel happy is nothing; happiness consists in making 
others happy.** He now became the champion of victims and 
underdogs — criminal offenders for whom he demanded more 
sympathetic treatment; women for whom he asked equality — 
particularly spiritual equality — colonial natives whose cause 
he pleaded in the two travel books which he wrote on his 
return from Africa — Voyage au Congo and Le retour du Tchad 
— ^finally, the socially underprivileged. It was then that he took 
up Communism and went to Russia. He declared that he had 
always been a Communist at heart, without knowing it, even 
when he had been most Christian. What he admired in Russia, 
he said in his Journal^ was the abolition of the abominable 
formula, Thou shalt earn my bread in the sweat of ihy 

There emerges now a new shade in Gide*s conception of 
personal liberty. In 1931, he wrote in a preface to Vol de nuit, 
of Antoine de Saint Exupery, “I am particularly grateful to 
him for throwing light on a paradoxical truth which is of con- 
siderable psychological importance to me, namely, that the 
happiness of man does not consist in liberty but in the accept- 
ance of a duty.** This is a marked difference from the com- 
pletely individualistic and personal sense of liberty expressed 
thirty years before in Les nourritures terrestres. He calls it 
now la liberti serviable mats non seroile. In his play CEdipe, 
of 1931, he shows in the hero the final and utter destruction 
which comes on the individual when he accepts nothing 

AndrS Gide 


greater tiian himself and values personal liberty above all 
else. Oedipus starts out with all the advantages which Gide 
thinks essential for the free individual, and he is proud and 
happy to be unencumbered by any attachment of family or 
tradition, for he can then be himself alone. Nevertheless, he 
is finally defeated because he tries to be entirely self-suflScient. 
After this bankruptcy, Gide is forced to the realization that 
man without God is doomed to defeat and despair, unless he 
substitutes some other idea for God. Oedipus, at the end, 
rejects God for man, and Gide looked towards Communism. 
He now thought that liberty was not sufficient in itself, that 
it destroys itself if it is not linked to some ideal beyond egoism 
and# self-expression — ^to some duty even. Looking then for 
some sense of obligation and responsibility, he thought that 
he would find it in Communism. He thought that he would 
find there, with its ideal of service, its discipline, the com- 
pletest expression of the individual and the sanest and total 
form of hberty, “The triumph of the individual,*’ he said, “is 
in the renouncing of individualism.” Later he was to say in 
Les nouvelles nourntures terrestres, of 1935, “Each human 
being who has only himself for aim suffers from a horrible 

His interest in Russia was not, however, a new departure. 
He had been working on Dostoevsky even before the War 
and in 1922' he gave a coinrse of lectures on him on the occasion 
of his centenary. He imagined then that he saw, shining 
through the darkness which had enveloped Russia since the 
Revolution, a bright ray of hope. He saw her as offering her- 
self in sacrifice for the salvation of the world and of humanity. 
He thought now, ten years later, that salvation might already 
have been achieved. Hitherto he had had the reputation of 
being someone who would not commit himself and who would 
not choose. Now he committed himself uncompromisingly to 
tile Communist solution for the ills of the world, and it was 
a kind of religious conversion — a conversion more sentimental 
than intellectual — and he said in his Journal, “I feel myself the 


AndrS Gide 

brother only of those who have come to Communism through 
love.” In 1931 he wrote again, “I would like to cry aloud my 
sympathy for the Soviet Union and hope that my cry might be 
heard and have effect. I would like to live long enough to 
witness the triumph of that tremendous effort which I hope 
from the bottom of my heart will succeed and for which I 
would like to work.” Although he was ready to sacrifice some 
of the sanctity of his individuality, he did not think that this 
should be necessary, and in 1932 he said that there was no 
reason why there should be a clash between individualism 
and Communism. remain a convinced individualist,” he 
said, "hut I consider a grave error the contrast which some 
people try to establish between Communism and the indi- 
vidual. To believe firmly that one can be — ^indeed must be — 
at the same time a Communist and an individualist, does not 
prevent one from condemning privileges, the favoritism of 
inheritance and the whole procession of errors of capitalism 
to which our Western world is still attached and which are 
dragging it headlong to its ruin. Why do I long for Com- 
munism? Because I believe it to be equitable and because I 
suffer on account of the injustices which I feel more strongly 
than ever when it is I myself who am favored. Because the 
regime under which we live does not seem to me to protect 
men from the most grievous abuses. Because amongst con- 
servatives I see only dead or dying things. Because it seems 
to me absurd to cling to things which have had their day. 
Because I believe in progress; because I prefer what is to be 
to what has ceased to exist. Why do I long for Communism? 
Because I believe that through it we shall be able to reach 
the highest culture and because it is Communism which can — 
indeed must — ^promote a new and better form of civilization.” 
Communism properly understood, he thought, needs to en- 
courage individual values in order to get the best out of every- 

In 1935 he sent a message to the Communists at the Congress 
of Soviet Writers, in which he said. 

Andre Gide 


On the high road of history on which each country, each 
nation, must sooner or later travel, the Soviet Union has 
taken the lead in a glorious manner. She gives us today an 
example of the new society of which we dreamed but for 
which we no longer dared hope. In the realm of intellect 
it is important that the Soviet Union should give a good 
example; she owes it to herself to prove to us that the Com- 
munist ideal is not — as her enemies are always pleased to 
claim — ^an ant]jill Utopia. Her duty today is to inaugurate 
in art and literature a Communist individualism — if I may 
be permitted to link together these two words which are 
usually quite wrongly contrasted. No doubt a period of mass 
affirmation was necessary, but the Soviet Union has now 
parsed beyond that stage and Communism can prevail only 
by taking into account the particular idiosyncrasies of each 
individual. A society in which each resembled all is not to 
be desired — I would say that it was impossible to achieve — 
how much more so a literature. Each artist is of necessity 
an individualist — ^however strong may be his Communist 
convictions and his attachment to the Party. It is only thus 
that he can do valuable work and serve society. I consider 
foolish and dangerous that fear which only die impotent 
experience, of being absorbed in the mass. Communism has 
need of strong personalities, in the same way as these find in 
Communism their justification and strength. 

During a meeting in Paris in 1935 of TUnion pour la Verit6, 
when he was asked to defend his opinions, he said, 

I consider that on account of its compromises Christianity 
is bankrupt. I have written, and I believe firmly, that if 
Christianity had really prevailed and if it had reaUy fulfilled 
the teaching of Christ, there would today be no question of 
Communism — ^diere would indeed be no social problem at 

He added later, during the discussion on Communism, 

If I have felt no contradiction between the community 
and the individualist position, it is precisely because that 
contradiction is only theoretic and artificial. I have become 


Andre Gide 

certain of that. It is not Marx who brought me to Com- 
munism — I have made strenuous efforts to read him, but in 
vain; I persevere, but it is certainly not his theory which 
won me over. What brought me to Communism with my 
whole heart was the fact of the privileged position which 
I personally enjoy — ^that seemed to me preposterous and 
intolerable. I once had occasion to talk widi one of the 
shipwrecked survivors of La Bourgogne and he told me that 
he had been lucky enough to get into a lifeboat in which a 
number of men had got away; if more had been taken in, 
the boat would have capsized and sunk. The men in safety 
on board, armed with jack-knives and hatchets, had hacked 
off the hands of those who, clinging to the sides of the boat, 
were endeavoring to scramble in out of the sea. The ki^owl- 
edge of being one of those in the lifeboat, of being safe, 
whilst others round me are drowning, that feeling became 
intolerable to me. People argue vdth me but I am not suf- 
ficiently expert to answer them subtly, I only cling tena- 
ciously to the one fact that I cannot accept a place in a 
lifeboat in which only a limited number of people are saved. 
If I could feel, at least, assured that it was the best who were 
saved, it might not be so bad, but what makes me most 
indignant is when somebody says to me "What are you 
grumbling at? You must admit that it is very comfortable 
in the lifeboat." 

Gide then became ashamed of being a man of independent 
means, of not having been obliged ever to work with his hands, 
of never having been forced to earn his living in the sweat of 
his brow; all that now gave him a feeling of inferiority. 

He went to Russia hoping that the Soviet Union would be 
able to produce the finest flowers of civilization without en- 
slaving the mind, or without reducing to serfdom a single 
class, or without denying the benefits of civilization to any- 
one. He went to Russia realizing that the new world might 
entail sacrifice of much that was good in itself — ^he knew that 
moral and artistic standards might have to go for a time, for 
the sake of temporary social and material gain. He agreed 


AndrS Gide 

ttat perhaps man could not be improved morally and intel- 
lectually before the social abuses had been removed, before 
the social system had been altered. He who had hitherto 
fought shy of all orthodoxies, was ready now, for a time, to 
accept the Marxist one — ^albeit fully realizing that it might be, 
if adhered to too long and too earnestly, as dangerous as any 
Other. He even agreed that, if it could be proved diat the 
Marxist doctrine was useful — ^perhaps even indispensable — ^to 
assure the establishment of the new social order, then he con- 
sidered that it might be worth-while. "It is perhaps right,” he 
said, "for achieving that end to sacrifice even a few works of 
art.” He was eventually to consider that the price was too 
heavy. In 1937 he could discover no distinction between what 
he saw in huge letters on the walls in Italy and what he had 
earlier observed in Russia. There were the same slogans — 
"Believe, obey and fight” — ^identical in both creeds. "These 
Italian inscriptions,” he said then in his Journaly "would have 
been equally in place on the walls of Moscow. The Com- 
munist spirit has ceased being in opposition to the Fascist 
spirit, or even diJfferentiating itself from it.” He thought later 
that the Soviet dream of a totalitarian state was an oppressive 
Utopia where enslaved minorities were no longer heard, where 
— ^what was worse — everyone thought alike. "There can be 
no question of harmony when the whole choir sings in unison,” 
he said. 

After the War a further development in his conception of 
individuality and liberty became apparent — a departure from 
the total and irresponsible liberty of his youth but also from 
the liherte serviable of his middle years. He now believed 
that absolute liberty destroys the individual and also society 
unless it be closely linked to tradition and discipline. He no 
longer asked for radical changes. During the War he wrote 
in Interviews imaginaires that if civilization depended solely 
on those who initiated revolutionaiy theories, then it would 
perish, since culture needs for its siuvival a continuous and 
developing tradition. In his most recent work, ThSsSe, of 1946, 

AndfS Gide 


he shows how a strong, purposeful and courageous individual 
is able to return safely from the Maze, but only because he 
had clung tightly to the thread which linked him with the 
past. It is interesting to notice the change which has taken 
place in the conception of this book since Gide first conceived 
it thirty years before. At first he saw the thread which bound 
Theseus to Ariadne as dragging him back to his past, to the 
place whence he had come, to women who will always be a 
brake on mans urge for progress; later he imagined him enter^ 
ing the Maze assured only by the thread of an inner fidelity; 
and finally he showed how Theseus could return only because 
he had clung tightly to the thread which bound him to his 
past, to the thread of tradition. Daedalus said to him as he set 
forth, "Go back to her " — ^that is Ariadne symbolizing tradition 
— ^"or all the rest, and the best with it, will be lost. This thread 
wiU be your link with the past. Go back to it. Go back to 
yourself. For nothing can begin from nothing, and it is from 
your past, and from what you are today, that what you are 
going to be must spring.’^ 

Gide returned to the same conception in the Bryce Memorial 
Lecture which he delivered in Oxford in June, 1947. He took 
then as his text the lines from Vergil where Aeneas is described 
as fleeing from burning Troy with his old father on his back* 
Gide said that these lines should be interpreted symbolically, 
that Aeneas was not merely bearing his father on his shoulders, 
but the whole weight of his past. In the same way we were 
fleeing from the burning city of our civilization with the bmden 
of our Christian past heavy on us, our Christian civilization 
based on the sanctity of each individual human soul, and it 
was incumbent on us to see that it did not perish. He realized, 
he said, that civilizations rose up and eventually died, but h# 
did not believe that ours was of necessity doomed if we ac- 
cepted the responsibility of the sacred charge laid on us by 
our traditions and our past. Though the city of European 
culture be burning, we could still preserve its most precious 
essence. He said that he remained an unrepentent individualist 

Aadt& Gide 


and protested with all his might against the submersion of 
individual responsibility in organized authority, in that escape 
from freedom which is characteristic of our age. He repudiated 
the fashionable catchwords, the theory of la litterature en- 
gagee to whatever creed or ideology, all the various "isms"' 
which would eventually vanish — as they had always dis- 
appeared — Cleaving only the outstanding individuals. 

This was in 1^47; but, fifteen years before, when he was 
favoring Communism, he said in his Journal^ 

My conversion is like a faith. My whole being is bent 
towards one single goal, all my thoughts — even involuntary 
— ^lead me back to it In the deplorable state of distress of 
the modem world, the plan of the Soviet Union seems to me 
to point to salvation. Everything persuades me of this. The 
wretched arguments of my opponents, far from convincing 
me, make me indignant. And if my life were necessary to 
assure the success of the Soviet Union, I would gladly give 
it immediately, I write this with a cool and calm head, in 
full sincerity, through great need to leave at least this testi- 
mony, in case death should intervene before I have time to 
express myself better. 

He went to Russia in June, 1936, full of high hopes which 
were soon disappointed, and he said on his return. 

There was in my Soviet adventure something tragic. I had 
arrived there a convinced and enthusiastic follower in order 
to admire a new world, and they offered me, to tempt me 
and win me, all the prerogatives and privileges which I 
abhorred in the old world. 

It was not through Marx, but through the Gospels, that 
Gide had reached Communism, and he found little of that 
spirit in Russia itself. He was feted everywhere, for he was a 
wonderful gain to the cause — ^the greatest living European 
writer and a man known for his integrity and honesty of mind. 
He was given all the privileges of a decadent civilization, but 
he did not need incense and it was not for material gain that 


AndrS Gide 

he had gone to the Soviet Union, He saw everywhere the same 
gulf which separates the privileged from the underprivileged, 
die same enslavement of die mind, against which he had pro- 
tested elsewhere in Europe. The books which he wrote on his 
return — Retour de TU.R,SS. and Retouches d mon retour de 
W.R,S,S , — show the measure of his disappointment and dis- 
illusionment. In them he expressed admiration and affection 
for the Russian people themselves; he was /^harmed by the 
smiling faces, the happy children, the recreation centers, the 
zest for learning and the atmosphere of hope. He was dis- 
tressed by the inequalities he saw, the poor return the masses 
of the people received for their patience and endurance; he 
was depressed by the drabness and ugliness of the clddies, 
the poor quality of the goods displayed in the shops and for 
which the people stood long hours in queues; and he was 
appalled by the lack of criticism and the absence of liberty of 
opinion and thought. It is from these two books, with the 
help and approval of Andre Gide himself, that the following 
narrative has been composed. 

Andre Gide 

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE; AfidtS Gide was born in Paris in No- 
vembety 1869; educated privately and at the Ecole Alsacienne 
in Paris, He is a man of independent means who has never 
been obliged to earn his living by a profession and this has 
helped him to become the kind of author he is today. In his 
twenties he first published Les nourritures terrestres, the 
work which was to exercise so much influence on the postwar 
generation of the First World War, His works include La 
Porte 6troite, La symphonie pastorale, Les faux monnayeurs, 
CEdipe, Th^see. But it is his Journal which is probably his 
greatest work and the one most suited to his particular genius. 
In it he appears as a moralist in the great classical tradition, 
whose nobility of thought and purity of style place him on 
equality with the great masters of French literature. He was 
awarded an Honorary D,Litt„ by the University of Oxford in 
June, 1947— the first honor he had ever received although he 
was then seventy-eight — and the Nobel Prize for literature at 
the end of the year. 

Although never actually a member of the Communist Party 
he was much interested in the Communist experiment in Rus- 
sia and thought that thence the only salvation for humanity 
would come. On an invitation from the Soviet Society of 
Authors he visited Russia in June, 1936, and came back utterly 
disillusioned. He returned then to his individualistic and lib- 
eral philosophy of life. He has published nothing new since 
Th6s6e of 1946, but has been occupied in bringing out his 
collected works and in writing his Journal. 



Andre Gide 

Homer relates how the great goddess Demeter, in her wan- 
derings in search of her daughter, came to the court of Celeus. 
No one recognized her in the disguise of a nurse, and a new- 
born child — the boy Demophoon — ^was entrusted to her care. 
At night, with the doors closed and while the household slept. 
Demeter used to lift Demophoon from his warm soft cradle 
and, with seeming cruelty — ^though in reality inspired by great 
love and the desire to transform the child into a God — she 
would lay him naked on a bed of glowing coals, and bend 
lovingly over her bonny nursling, as if over the incarnation 
of future mankind. He endured the heat of the embers and 
this ordeal by fire made him strong and glorious beyond all 
dreams and hopes. Demeter, however, was not permitted to 
complete her daring endeavor. Metaneira, the mother — so the 
legend relates — anxious for the safety of her child, burst one 
night into the room, and, thrusting aside the goddess, scattered 
the embers with aU the superhuman virtues which were being 
wrought and, in order to save the child, sacrificed the God. 

Some years ago I wrote of my love and admiration for the 
Soviet Union, where an unprecedented experiment was being 
attempted, the thought of which inflamed my heart -with ex- 
pectation and from which I hoped a tremendous advance, an 
impulse capable of sweeping along the whole of humanity. It 
was certainly worth-while to be alive at such a moment to be 
able to witness this rebirth and to give ones whole life to 
further it. In my heart I bound myself resolutely, in the name 
of future culture, to the fortunes of the Soviet Union. 

Four days after my arrival in Russia I declared, at the 
funeral of Gorky, in the Red Square at Moscow, that the fate 
of culture was linked, in my mind, with the future of the Soviet 
Union. “Culture,” I said, ‘liad long remained the prerogative 
of a privileged class, and leisure was necessary for its develop- 
ment One whole section of society had toiled in order to 
allow a small number of people to enjoy life, while the garden 
of culture, literature and art had long remained a private en- 

Andre Gide 


closed property to whicli only the most intelligent could ever 
hope to have access — ^those who from childhood had been 
sheltered from need. It is of course true that ability does not 
necessarily accompany wealth and in French literature Moliere, 
Diderot and Rousseau had risen from the people, but their 
readers had been men of leisure. When the October Revolu- 
tion stirred up the deep masses of the Russian people, it was 
said in the West, ^ oft repeated and universally believed, that 
this tidal wave would swamp all art. As soon as literature 
ceased being the privilege of one class would it not — it was 
asked — ^then constitute a danger? It was to answer that accusa- 
tion that writers from all countries grouped themselves to- 
gether with the firm conviction of accomplishing an urgent 
duty. It is true that culture was menaced — ^but the peril did 
not come from the revolutionary and liberating forces; it came, 
on the contrary, from the parties which were trying to sub- 
jugate these forces and to break them. It is War which most 
threatens culture, war toward which national forces inspired 
by hate and envy drive us. It is the great international and 
revolutionary forces on which the duty is laid to protect cul- 
ture and to make it illustrious. Its fate is bound up, m my 
mind, with the fate of the Soviet Union and it shall be 

This speech belonged to the early part of my visit, to the 
time when I still believed — still had die naivete to believe — 
that one could seriously discuss questions of culture with the 
Russians. I wish that I could still believe it. If I was mistaken 
at first, it is only right that I should recognize my error as soon 
as possible, because I am responsible for those at home whom 
my opinions might lead astray. No personal pride must hinder 
me — ^I have little in any case — ^there are matters far more im- 
portant than myself and my personal pride, more important 
than the Soviet Union. The future of humanity and the fate 
of its culture are at stake. 

As long as my tour in Russia was conducted everything 
seemed to me wonderful. In direct contact with the working 


Andre Gide 

people, in their workshops, in their factories, in their recreation 
centers, I was able to enjoy moments of deep joy. Nowhere 
are human relationships as easily formed as in the Soviet 
Union, nor as warm or deep. Friendships are quickly made — 
often a mere glance suflSces — and strong bonds of sympathy 
are instantly forged. I verily believe that nowhere as much 
as in the Soviet Union does one enjoy so deep a feeling 
of humanity, an immediate up-surge of brptherly love. My 
heart swelled and tears came into my eyes through excess of 
joy — ^tears of love and affection. The children whom I saw 
in the camps were well-fed, weU-cared-for, cherished and 
happy. Their eyes were clear and full of confidence and hope. 
This expression of illumined happiness I saw also on ther faces 
of workers in the recreation centers, where they assembled, in 
the evening, when their work was done. Each town in the 
Soviet Union has now its recreation center and its kinder- 
garten. Like many other visitors, I saw model factories, clubs, 
pleasure grounds, at which I marveled. I asked for nothing 
better than to be carried away with admiration and to convert 
others as weU. And so, as it is very pleasant to be enraptured 
and to persuade others, if I protest against all this enchant- 
ment, I must have serious grounds for doing so. I only began 
to see clearly when, abandoning the government transport, I 
traveled alone through the country in order to be able to get 
into direct contact with the people. I had read too much 
Marxist literature to feel a fish out of water in Russia, but 
I had also read too many accounts of idyllic trips and too many 
enthusiastic apologies. My mistake, at first, was to believe all 
the praise that I heard, and everything which might have en- 
lightened me was always said in a spiteful tone of voice. It 
happens too often that the friends of the Soviet Union refuse 
to see anything bad there — or at least to recognize it — so it 
happens that truth is spoken with hatred and falsehood with 
love. My mind is constituted in such a way that my greatest 
severity is directed especially toward those of whom I would 
like always to approve, and I do not think that it is the best 

Andre Gide 


way to express one’s love to be content witb praise alone. I 
that I do more service to the cause which the Soviet 
Union represents by speaking without pretense and without too 
much circumspection and consideration. I certainly had per- 
sonally nothing to complain of in the course of my trip, in spite 
of all the spiteful explanations which were invented subse- 
quently to invalidate my criticism, which was too often inter- 
preted as the result and expression of personal pique and dis- 
appointment — ^that is most absurd of all. For never have I 
traveled in greater or more luxurious ease — had the most com- 
fortable cars everywhere, a private coach on the train, the best 
rooms and meals in aU the hotels — always the best was offered 
me a^jd what a reception I received everywhere! I was ac- 
claimed and feted. Nothing was considered too good for me. I 
could not fail to carry away with me a most wonderful memory 
of the welcome I had received, but nevertheless all these favors 
reminded me constantly of the privileges and differences where 
I had hoped to find equality. "S^^en I escaped from ofBcials and 
went amongst the workers, I discovered lhat most of them 
lived in the direst poverty, while I was offered a ceremonial 
banquet every evening, at which the variety, richness and 
quantity of the hors d’oeuvres alone were sufficient to sate the 
appetite before the main part of the meal had even begun — a 
dinner of six courses which lasted four hours. Never having 
had to settle a bill while I was in Russia, I cannot form an 
estimate of the cost of such a feast, but one of my friends who 
knows the range of prices in the Soviet Union, told me that it 
would cost two or three hundred roubles a head, and the 
workers whom I had seen earned only five roubles a day and 
had to be content with black bread and dried fish. During our 
stay in Russia we were not exactly the guests of the govern- 
ment, but of the wealthy Society of Soviet Authors. When I 
think of all they spent on us — and there were six of us, with 
our guides, and often as many hosts as guests! Of course they 
had counted on a different return for their money, and I think 
that part of the resentment of Pravda came from the fact that 

180 Andre Gide 

I was so poor an investment. Certainly it seemed to me quite 
natural tbat they should want to receive a guest as well as 
possible and to show him the best of everything, but neverthe- 
less it surprised me to find so great a difference between the 
best and the common lot, such excessive privileges beside 
such depths of poverty. It is on account of my admiration for 
the Soviet Union and the marvels she has already accomplished 
by herself, that my criticism is going to be severe: because of 
what we expect from her and what she gave us reason to hope 
from her. I trusted her and so, in Russia, what distressed me 
most was not what was not yet perfect, but rather to find there 
everything from which I had always fled at home — ^the privi- 
leges which I had hoped abolished forever. ^ 

Who can ever say what the Soviet Union had been for me? 
Far more than the country of my choice, an example and an 
inspiration, it represented what I had always dreamed of but 
no longer dared hope — it was something toward which all my 
longing was directed — it was a land where I imagined Utopia 
was in process of becoming reality. The Soviet Union is, how- 
ever, at an early stage of construction — ^that needs to be re- 
membered constantly — and we are present at the parturition 
of the future. There are both good and bad points — ^I should 
say both the best and the worst; one moves from the brightest 
to the darkest with alarming and disconcerting suddenness. 
Much has already been accomplished which has filled our 
hearts with joy and this, doubtless, made me exacting. It 
seemed at first to me as if the most difiBcult had already been 
achieved, and I was ready to throw myself with all my heart 
into the contract, as it were, into which I had entered with the 
Soviet Union in the name of all suffering mankind. I felt myself 
so much committed that failure was not to be contemplated. 

I admired particularly in Russia the extraordinary impulse 
toward education and culture. But the sad thing is that the 
education the people receive only informs them on what leads 
them to flatter themselves on the present state of affairs and 
to believe in the Soviet Union Ave Spes Unica, Culture is 

AndrS Gide 


directed toward one aim only, the glorification of the Soviet 
Union; it is not disinterested, and critical discrimination is 
entirely lacking. I know well that they make a parade of self- 
criticism and, at first, I believed and hoped in that, thinking 
that it might lead to great results if it was applied with in- 
tegrity; but I soon discovered that criticism consists solely in 
inquiring whether such or such a work is in agreement with 
the Party line. It is not the Party line which is discussed or 
criticized, but only the question whether a certain theory 
tallies or not with this sacred line. No state of mind is more 
dangerous than this, nor more likely to imperil real culture. 
Soviet citizens remain in the most complete ignorance of every- 
thing outside their own country and — ^what is worse — ^have been 
persua'Hed that everything abroad is vastly inferior to every- 
thing at home. On the other hand, although they are not inter- 
ested in what prevails outside their country, they are very much 
interested in what foreigners think of them. What they are 
very anxious to know is whether they are suflSciently admired 
abroad; what they fear above all else is that foreigners may 
not be sufficiently well-informed concerning their merits; what 
they want from them is praise and not information. 

I happened to visit a model collective — ^it is one of the finest 
and most prosperous in the Soviet Union — and I went into 
several of the houses. I wish that I could give some conception 
of the uniformly depressing impression which is communi- 
cated by each of the dwellings, that of a total absence of in- 
dividuality. In each there are the same ugly pieces of furniture, 
the same picture of Stalin and absolutely nothing else — ^not 
the smallest vestige of ornament or personal belonging. Any 
house could be exchanged for any other without the tenant 
being aware of the alteration. Of course the members of a 
collective take all their pleasures in common, and their homes 
are only, as it were, lairs to sleep in; the whole interest of 
their lives is centered in the club. Doubtless the happiness of 
all can most easily be achieved by the sacrifice of the indi- 
viduality of each, through conformity. But can it be called 


AndrS Gide 

progress, tiiis loss of individuality, this uniformity, toward 
which everything in Russia is now tending? I cannot believe 
that it is. In the Soviet Union it is accepted once and for all 
that on every subject — whatever may be the issue — ^there can 
only be one opinion, the right one. And each morning Pravda 
tells the people what they need to know, and must believe and 
think. When I was in the Soviet Union, I was astonished to 
see no mention in the papers of the Civil War in Spain which, 
at the time, was causing much troubled anxiety in democratic 
circles. I expressed my pained surprise to my interpreter and 
noticed some embarrassment on his part, but he thanked me 
for my observations and said that he would transmit them to 
the correct quarter. That evening, at the usual ceremonial 
dinner, there were many speeches and toasts according To the 
usual custom. When the health of all the guests and hosts 
had been drunk, one of my party, Jef Last, rose to his feet 
and, in Russian, proposed a toast to the triumph of the Red 
cause on the Spanish Front. The company applauded with 
some embarrassment and lack of cordiality, I thought, and 
replied immediately with a toast to Stalin. When my turn 
came, I lifted my glass to the political prisoners in Germany. 
This time the toast was vociferously applauded and with no 
halfhearted enthusiasm — ^answered again by another toast to 
Stalin. All present knew what to think about the victims of 
Fascism in Germany and what attitude to adopt. But on the 
Spanish question Pravda had not yet made any ofiBcial pro- 
nouncement and they did not dare risk approval without 
getting a lead and knowing what they were expected to think. 
It was only a few days later, when we had arrived at Sebas- 
topol, that an immense wave of sympathy unfurled from the 
Red Square in Moscow and, through Pravda swept across 
the whole country. By now the minds of the people are so 
well-trained in conformity that compliance has become natural 
and easy for them — ^I do not believe that it is hypocrisy — ^so 
that each time you speak with one Russian it is as if you had 
spoken with all. 

Andre Gide 


The disappearance of capitalism has not brought freedom 
to the Soviet workers — it is essential that the proletariat 
abroad should realize this fully. It is of course true that they 
are no longer exploited by shareholding capitalists, but never- 
theless they are exploited, and in so devious, subtle and twisted 
a manner that they do not know any more whom to blame. 
The largest number of them live below the poverty line, and 
it is their starvation wages which permit die swollen pay- 
packets of the privileged workers — ^the pliant yes-men. One 
cannot fail to be shocked by the indifFerence shown by those 
in power toward their Inferiors, and the servility and obse- 
quiousness on the part of the latter — almost said the poor. 
Granted that there are no longer any classes nor class distinc- 
tions in the Soviet Union; but the poor are still vdth them — 
and there are far too many of them. I had hoped to find none 
— or more exactly, it was precisely in order to find none that 
I went to the Soviet Union. But poverty there is frowned upon 
— one might imagine that it was indelicate and criminal — ^it 
does not arouse pity or charity, only contempt. Those who 
parade themselves so proudly are those whose prosperity has 
been bought at the price of this infinite poverty. It is not that 
I object to inequality of wages — ^I agree that it is a necessary 
and inevitable measure — but there ought to be some way of 
relieving the most grievous disparities. I am afraid that aU 
this means a return to a form of working-class bourgeoisie, 
gratified and hence conservative — too like the petty bour- 
geoisie at home for my taste, I see the symptoms already. 
There is no doubt that all the bourgeois vices and failings 
still lie dormant, in spite of the Revolution, in many. Man 
cannot be reformed from the outside — a change of heart is 
necessary — and I feel anxious when I observe all the bourgeois 
instincts flattered and encouraged in the Soviet Union, and all 
the old layers of society forming again — ^if not precisely social 
classes, at least a new kind of aristocracy, and not an aris- 
tocracy of intellect or ability, but an aristocracy of right- 
thinkers and conformists. In the next generation it may well 

184 Andre Gide 

be an aristocracy of money. Are my fears exaggerated? I sin- 
cerely hope so. 

When I visited Sotchi I marveled at the number of sanatoria 
and rest-houses that are being erected for the workers. These 
hostels are most pleasant, with beautiful gardens and private 
bathing beaches. It is praiseworthy that all this semi-luxury 
should be provided for the use of the workers; nevertheless 
those who enjoy tliis comfort are aU too of|:en the new priv- 
ileged class. It is true that those in need of rest or treatment 
are given priority — ^but always provided that they agree with 
the Party hue. And it is lamentable to see near by, the men 
employed in building these very rest-houses so badly paid and 
parked in such sordid encampments. 

If I am full of admiration for the rest-houses at Sotchi, what 
can I say about the hotel at Sinop, near Soukhoum, where 
I stayed, so vastly superior to anything else that it can be 
compared only to the most comfortable and luxurious hotels 
abroad. Each room has its own bathroom, its private balcony, 
the furnishings are of the finest and the cooking equal to first 
class anywhere. Near the hotel is a model farm to supply it 
with produce, comprising model stables, cowsheds, pigsties 
and an enormous hencote provided with the latest contriv- 
ances. But, if you cross the stream which marks the boundary 
of the farm, you come across a row of mean hoyels in which 
each small room of six square feet houses four people at a rent 
of two roubles a month per person. 

Although the long-heralded Dictatorship of the Proletariat 
has not materialized, there is nevertheless dictatorship of one 
kind — dictatorship of the Soviet bureaucracy. It is essential 
to recognize this and not to allow oneself to be bamboozled. 
This is not what was hoped for — one might almost say that it 
is precisely the last thing in the world fiiat was hoped. The 
workers have no longer even the liberty of electing tiieir own 
representatives to defend their threatened interests. Free bal- 
lot — open or secret — ^is a derision and a sham; the voters have 
merely the right of electing those who have been chosen for 

Andre Gide 


them beforehand. The workers are cheated, muzzled and 
bound hand and foot, so that resistance has become well-nigh 
impossible. The game has been well played by Stalin, and 
Communists the whole world over applaud him, believing 
that in the Soviet Union at least they have gained a glorious 
victory, and they call all those who do not agree with them 
public enemies and traitors. But in Russia this has led to 
treachery of a new sort. An excellent way of earning promotion 
is to become an informer, that puts you on good terms with 
the dangerous police which protect you while using you. Once 
you have started on that easy, slippery slope, no question of 
friendship or loyalty can intervene to hold you back; on every 
occasion you are forced to advance, sliding further into the 
abyss of shame. The result is that everyone is suspicious of 
everyone else and the most innocent remarks — even of chil- 
dren — can bring destruction, so that everyone is on his guard 
and no one lets himself go. 

During my tour I was taken to see the model town of 
Bolchevo, which is unique of its kind since all its inhabitants 
are convicts — ^housebreakers, pickpockets and murderers. It 
started as a small penal settlement founded in the belief that 
criminals are only invalids or neurotic misfits whom proper 
treatment, sympathetic kindness and a normal life would cure 
and turn into valuable, contented citizens, but it has grown 
into a large and flourishing town in which not only factories 
are found, but also libraries, rest-centers and clubs. When I 
visited it, it seemed to me one of the noblest and most success- 
ful experiments in the Soviet Union and a great achievement 
It was only later that I discovered, what I did not know at 
first, that only informers — those who had betrayed their fellow- 
convicts to the authorities — ^were granted the privilege of liv- 
ing in this model settlement. Could moral cynicism sink lower 
than this? 

The unfortunate Soviet worker is tied to his factory — ^just 
as the agricultural worker is tied to his collective — ^like Ixion 
to his wheel. If the worker for some personal reason — either 

Andre Gide 


because he imagines, or hopes, that he will elsewhere be better 
oflF, or less badly off, or merely because he would welcome a 
change — ^thinks of leaving his job, then, classified and regi- 
mented as he is, he runs the risk of obtaining no employment 
anywhere. And even if, whilst remaining in the same town, 
he leaves his factory, he is deprived of the living quarters, to 
which his work gave him the right — ^hard to find elsewhere — 
and for which moreover he had been paying rent He also 
discovers that he forfeits, on leaving, a considerable part of 
his wages and loses the whole of the accumulated profits from 
his collective work. On the other hand, if his transfer is con- 
sidered necessary by the authorities, he cannot refuse to leave. 
He is free neither to go when he wishes nor to stay where his 
affections and personal interests are centered. Then, if he does 
not belong to tire Party, those who do outstrip him in promo- 
tion. Yet aU who desire cannot become Party members, and 
moreover everyone does not possess the requisite qualities of 
flattery, obsequiousness and submission. If, on the other hand, 
he is lucky enough to be a Party member, he cannot resign 
without losing all the advantages his employment gave him, 
and he is also liable to suspicion and reprisals. \^y, it is 
asked, should anyone want to leave a Party which grants such 
substantial rewards in return for mere acquiescence and obedi- 
ence? Why, besides, should anyone want to think for himself 
since it is universally agreed that everything is for the best in 
the best of all possible worlds? To think for oneself is to run 
the risk of being accused of being counter-revolutionary, and 
then — if one is a Party member — one is expelled and there 
follows the probability of Siberia. This impoverishment of the 
human stock is all the more tragic since it passes unobserved 
and those who disappear — or are made to disappear — are 
amongst the bravest and most independent of those who dis- 
tinguish themselves from the masses and hinder uniformity 
and mediocrity. These deportees — ^thousands of them — ^who 
have been unable to be humble or to bend the knee — it seem? 
to me that I hear them in the darkness around me: it is the 

Andre Gide 


cries of these countless victims which rouse me in the long 
watches of the night; it is their unwilling silence which urges 
me to speech today; it is thinking of these martyrs that I now 
pen these lines; and recognition from them — ^if my words 
could ever reach them — ^would be more sweet and precious 
to me than aU the incense from Pravda. No one intervenes on 
their behalf, and those who are responsible for justice and 
liberty are silent, ^while the masses of the people are blinded. 
When I raise my voice in their favor I am told — again in the 
name of Marx — ^that these deportations, the poverty of the 
workers and the abolition of suflFrage, all these are only provi- 
sional measures and are the necessary price to pay for the 
gains of 1917. It is, however, terrifying to see abandoned, one 
after the other, all the benefits gained at the price of so much 
suffering. It is time that eyes should be opened to this tragic 
failure in which all our hopes have foundered. One might 
perhaps have accepted the absence of personal and intellec- 
tual freedom in Russia today, if at least there had been evi- 
dence that the material progress of the masses was being 
gradually, if slowly, achieved, but this is far from being the 
case and, on the contrary, it is evident that all the worst and 
most reprehensible features of capitalist society are being 
re-established. That petty-bourgeois mentality, to which I 
have previously referred, which I greatly fear is on the in- 
crease, is, in my opinion, profoundly and fundamentally 
counter-revolutionary. Yet what they call counter-revolution- 
ary is precisely that revolutionary spirit, that surging torrent, 
which, at first, tore through the rotting and crumbling dikes 
of the Czarist world. One would like to be able to believe that 
love still filled their hearts to overflowing — or at least a pas- 
sionate need for justice — ^but once the Revolution was accom- 
plished, it all vanished and the generous ardor which had 
inspired the first revolutionaries became, as it were, the rusting 
debris of tools whose utility is done. Now that the Revolution 
has become established, it parleys with iniquity; and those in 
whom the rebel spirit still bums, those for whom all these 


Andrd Gide 

successive concessions are compromises, these are disregarded 
or liquidated. Would it not then be better to cease quibbling 
and to recognize that the inspiration of the Revolution no 
longer prevails, since what is expected is submission and con- 
formity? What is demanded is approbation of everything done 
by the government. The slightest opposition and the merest 
criticism exposes its agent to the severest penalties and is, 
moreover, instantly suppressed. From top Jto bottom of the 
reformed social ladder, those with the best references are 
the most servile, and those who stand out independently 
are mown down or deported. Soon, in that heroic race which 
has deserved so well of our love and admiration, there will 
be left only the profiteers, the executioners and the victims. 
The small, independent worker has become a hunted animal, 
starved, broken and finally eliminated. I doubt whether in 
any country in the world — ^not even in Hitler s Germany — 
have die mind and spirit ever been less free, more bent, 
more terrorized over — and indeed vassalized — ^than in the 
Soviet Union. Yet the suppression of the opposition in a 
country — or even the curtailing of its expression — is a very 
dangerous thing, an invitation to terrorism. If aU the citizens 
in a state thought alike, it would no doubt spare the govern- 
ment much trouble, but, faced with such a prospect, can one 
then talk of culture? Real wisdom consists in listening to oppo- 
sition views — ^in fostering them even whilst preventing Aem 
from harming the common weal. 

Humanity is complex and not all of a piece — ^fhat must be 
accepted — and every attempt at simplification and regimenta- 
tion, every effort from the outside to reduce everything and 
everyone to the same common denominator, will always be 
reprehensible, pernicious and dangerous. 

With artists it is still more sinister than with the ordinary 
citizen. I believe that the real value of an author consists in 
his revolutionary force, or more exactly — ^for I am not foolish 
enough to credit the Left alone with intellectual and artistic 


Andre Gide 

powers — ^in liis quality of opposition. A great artist is of neces- 
sity a ‘nonconformist” and he must swim against the current 
of his day. But what will eventually happen in the Soviet 
Union when the transformed state has removed from the 
artist all need for opposition? What will happen to the artist 
when there will be no longer any possibility even of opposi- 
tion? Will the only course left to him then be to drift with the 
current? Doubtless, as long as the struggle persists and vic- 
tory has not been wholly achieved, he will be able to lead ihe 
revolution and, by fighting himself, assure its victory. But 
what is to happen then? It is precisely this which makes me 
look with so much anxiety toward the Soviet Union; that was 
the vital question which I had been asking myself before I 
went to Russia and to which I found no satisfactory answer. 
Furthermore, what is to happen to the subtle and truly original 
artist? One painter whom I met in Russia told me that subtlety 
and originality were no longer what the country wanted, not 
what was now needed. He said that an opera was no use to 
the workers if, on leaving the theater, there were no tunes 
that they could whistle, ‘'^at was now needed, he insisted, 
were works which could be immediately apprehended and 
understood. I protested that the greatest works — and even 
those which later became popular — ^were never appreciated 
when they were first heard — or were only appreciated by a 
small and select public. He admitted that even Beethoven 
would have found it impossible, in the Soviet Union, to make 
a come-back after an initial failure. “You see,” he said, “an 
artist here must first and foremost be in the Party line — other- 
wise even the highest works will be considered examples of 
mere ‘formalism.’ ” That is the expression now used in Russia 
to designate everything which they do not care to see or hear. 
“We intend,” he went on, “to create a new art worthy of the 
great people that we have now become.” I answered that this 
would oblige all the artists to be “conformists” and that the 
best and most original would never consent to debase their 
art and to bow to such a diktat; they would therefore be 


AndrS Gide 

reduced to silence. Then the very culture which the leaders 
were anxious to further, illustrate and glorify would spurn 
them and despise them. He said that I was only talking as a 
bourgeois and that he, for his part, was convinced that Marx- 
ism, which in so many other fields had achieved great things, 
would also produce great works of art. He claimed that the ody 
thing which prevented their emergence was the excessive 
importance still attributed by artists to outworn forms of art. 
He was speaking in an ever rising voice and seemed to be 
delivering a lecture or else to be reciting a lesson by rote. I 
could not listen any longer in patience and left him without 
answering. Some time later, however, he came to my room 
and admitted that, at heart, he agreed with me but that, in 
the lounge downstairs, he was being overheard, that he was 
opening a one-man show in the near future and needed official 
support and approval. 

When I arrived in the Soviet Union, the general public had 
not yet resolved the thorny controversy about "formalism.^ I 
tried to understand what was meant by the expression and 
discovered that the works which were accused of "formalism” 
were those by artists who had laid more emphasis on form 
than on content. I might, however, add that only one content 
was considered worthy of consideration — or indeed tolerated 
— ^the right one, and every work was held to be “formalist” 
which did not point in that one direction. It is enough to make 
one weep to realize that this is the spirit which inspires all 
criticism in the Soviet Union. Such sectarianism may once 
have been politically useful, but one certainly cannot describe 
it as culture. Culture will always be in peril where criticism 
cannot be freely practised. In Russia a work which is not in 
the Party line is condemned, and beauty is considered a 
bourgeois aberration. However great may be the talent of an 
artist, if he does not follow the Party line he labors unknown 
and unrecognized — ^if he is allowed to labor at all — ^but if he 
conforms, he receives recompense and praise. It is easy to see 
what advantage can accrue to a government from singling out 

Andre Gide 191 

for reward an artist who can sing the praises of the regime. 
Conversely, it is easy to see the advantages which accrue to 
the artist himself if he is prepared to sing the praises of the 
government which gives him so goodly a heritage. 

Amongst all workers and artisans in the Soviet Union it is 
the writer who is most favored and indulged. The immense 
privileges that I was offered amazed and terrified me and I 
was afraid of being seduced and corrupted. I did not go to 
the Soviet Union ^or the sake of benefits, and those that I saw 
were glaring; but that did not prevent my criticism, since the 
most favored position enjoyed by writers in Russia — ^better 
than in any other country in the world — ^was granted only to 
the right-thinking. That was a danger signal to me and I was 
immediately on my guard. The price exacted is the total sur- 
render of all opposition, and opposition in the Soviet Union 
is merely the exercise of free criticism. I discovered that a 
certain distinguished member of the Academy of Sciences 
had just been released from prison, whose sole crime had 
been independence of judgment, and when foreign scientists 
tried to get in touch with him, they were always told that 
he was indisposed. Another was dismissed from Ms professor- 
ship and denied laboratory facilities for having expressed 
scientific opinions which did not tally with current Soviet 
doctrine, and he was obliged to write a public letter of recan- 
tation to avoid deportation. It is a characteristic trait of 
despotism to be unable to suffer independence and to tolerate 
only servility. However just his brief, woe betide the Soviet 
lawyer who rises to defend an accused whom the authorities 
wish to see convicted. Stalin allows only praise and approba- 
tion, and soon he will be surrounded only by those who cannot 
put him in the wrong since they have no opinions what- 
soever, His portrait is seen everywhere, his name is on every- 
one’s lips and praise of him occurs in every public speech. Is 
all this the result of worship, love or fear? Who can say? I 
remember, on the way to Tiflis, as we went through Gori, the 
little village where he was born, I thought it would be a kind 


Andre Gide 

and courteous attention to send him a personal message as an 
expression of gratitude for the warm welcome we had received 
in the Soviet Union, where we had been treated everywhere 
with lavish hospitality. I thought that no better opportunity 
would occur again, so I had the car stopped at the post oflSce 
and I handed in a telegram which began: "Passing through 
Gori on our wonderful trip I feel the impulse to send you — 
But here the translator paused and said that he could not 
transmit such a message, that "you,’"' when addressed to Stahn, 
was not sufficient. It was not decent, he declared, and some- 
thing must be added. He suggested "You leader of the workers'’ 
or else ^‘You Lord of the people.” It seemed to me absurd and 
I said that Stalin must surely be above such flattery, buUall in 
vain. Nothing would budge him, and he would not transmit 
the telegram unless I agreed to the emendation. I reflected 
sadly that such formalities contribute to erect an insuperable 
barrier between Stalin and his subjects. I was also frequently 
obliged to make additions or alterations in the speeches I 
dehvered in the course of my visit. They explained to me that 
a word hke "destiny” must always be preceded by the epithet 
"glorious” when it referred to the destiny of the Soviet Union; 
on the other hand they requested me to delete the adjective 
"great” when it qualified a king, since a monarch can never 
be "great”! At Leningrad I was invited to address a society of 
students and writers and I submitted my script beforehand to 
the committee, but I was informed that what I had intended 
to say would be considered unseemly since it was not in the 
Party line. The ensuing difficulties were so many and so 
tortuous, that I eventually abandoned the project of the ad- 
dress, which ran as follows: 

I have often been invited to give my views on Contempo- 
rary Soviet Literature, and I would like to explain why I 
have hitherto refused to express an opinion. This will per- 
mit me to clarify and amplify certain statements which I 
made in the Red Square in Moscow on the occasion of 
Gorky’s funeral. I spoke then of the new problems which 

Andre Gide 


the very success of the Revolution had provoked, and I said 
it would be to the eternal credit of me Soviet Union to 
have resuscitated them for our consideration. As the future 
of civilization is closely linked with whatever solution is 
found for them in Russia, it seems to me profitable to raise 
them again here. The majority, even when it comprises the 
best elements, never appreciates what is new or difficult in 
a work of art, but only what can readily be recognized — 
that is to say, what is most commonplace. It must be remem- 
bered that there are revolutionary as well as bourgeois 
commonplaces and dishes. It is also essential to realize that 
what gives quality to a work of art and brings it immortality, 
is never what comes from the revolution nor what reflects 
its doctrine, however noble it may be. A work of art will 
survive only by what is truly original in it, by the new 
questions it asks or anticipates, and by the answers that it 
gives to questions which have not yet been formulated, I 
greatly fear that many of the works of art impregnated 
with the purest Marxist doctrine — ^to which indeed they owe 
their contemporary success — ^will, for posterity, smack only 
of the laboratory. The only works of art which will survive 
oblivion are those which have risen superior to contempo- 
rary preoccupations. Now that the Revolution is triumphant, 
art runs a grave risk — as grave as any under the most 
calamitous oppressions — ^the danger of becoming an ortho- 
doxy. What triumphant revolution needs to grant, above 
all else, to the artist, is freedom. Without complete freedom, 
art loses all its significance and worth. And, since the ap- 
plause of the majority means success, reward and fame will 
go to those works which the public can grasp and under- 
stand at the first attempt I often ask myself anxiously 
whether a Keats, a Baudelaire or a Rimbaud may not lan- 
guish unknown today in the Soviet Union who, by reason 
of their originality and power, have not yet been heard. 
It is they who interest me most, those who, at first, were 
despised and neglected — ^the Baudelaires, the Rimbauds 
and the Keatses — ^those whom posterity will single out for 
immortality. You may argue perhaps that we do not need 
nowadays a Keats, a Baudelaire or a Rimbaud, that they 


Andre Gide 

are significant only insofar as they reflect the decadent and 
dying society of which they were the sorry products; you 
may say that if they cannot prevail, so much the worse for 
them and so much the better for us, since we have nothing 
further to learn from their like, and the writers who can 
teach us something today are those who, in the new society, 
feel perfectly at home — ^in other words, those who approve 
and flatter the regime. But I personally believe that it is 
precisely the works which flatter and approve which are of 
poor educational worth, and that a culture, if it is to pro- 
gress, must ignore them. As for the^literature which confines 
itself to reflecting society, I have already said what I think 
of it. To remain in constant self-contemplation and self- 
admiration may be one stage in the development of a young 
society, but it would indeed be regrettable and tragic if this 
first stage were to remain the final and only one. 

As long as man is oppressed and downtrodden, as long as 
the compulsion of social injustice keeps him in subjection, we 
are at liberty to hope much from what has not yet had op- 
portunity to burgeon, from all the latent fertility in the 
fallow classes. Just as we hope much from children who 
may eventually grow up into quite commonplace people, in 
the same way we often have the illusion that the masses are 
composed of men of a finer clay than the rest of disappointing 
humanity. I think that they are merely less corrupt and less 
decadent than the others, that is all. I see already a new 
bourgeoisie developing in the Soviet Union from these untried 
masses, with exactly the same faults and vices as ours. No 
sooner have they risen above the poverty line, than they 
despise the poor and become jealous and possessive of the 
belongings of which they were so long deprived; they know 
how to acquire them now and how to keep them. Are these 
really the people who made the Revolution? No! They are 
merely those who have turned it to their own selfish advan- 
tage. They may well still be members of the Communist Party, 
but they are no longer Communist at heart. I blame the Soviet 
Union not for having failed to achieve more — see now that 
nothing better could have been accomplished in that time, the 

Andre Gide 195 

country had started from too low — ^what I complain of is the 
extent of their bluff, that they boasted that the situation in 
the Soviet Union was desirable and enviable — this from the 
country of my hopes and trust was painful to me. 

I blame the Communists in France — and elsewhere too — 
and I do not mean those who were duped in all good faith, 
but those who knew — or ought to have known — ^better, and 
yet lied to the workers abroad while all the time seeking 
political aims. It is time that the workers outside the Soviet 
Union should realize th^ they have been bamboozled and led 
astray by the Communist Party, just as the Russian workers 
were duped before them. 

Deplorable and unsatisfactory as the state of affairs in the 
Soviet Union is, I would have remained silent if I could have 
been assured of any faint progress toward something better. 
It is because I have reached the firm conviction that the 
Soviet Union is sliding dovm the slope that I had hoped to see 
it ascend, and because it has abandoned, one after another — 
and always for the most specious reasons — ^the liberties gained 
by the great Revolution after so much hardship and blood- 
shed. It is because I see it dragging in its wake to irreparable 
chaos the Communist Parties of other countries, that I con- 
sider it my duty to speak openly. 

No question of Party loyalty can restrain me from speaking 
frankly for I place truth above the Party. I know well that in 
Marxist doctrine there is no such thing as truth — at least not 
in any absolute sense — ^there is only relative truth. I believe, 
however, that in so serious a matter it is criminal to lead others 
astray, and urgent to see matters as they are, not as we would 
wish them to be or had hoped that they might be. The Soviet 
Union has deceived our fondest hopes and shown us tragically 
in what treacherous quicksand an honest revolution can 
founder. The same old capitalist society has been re-estab- 
lished, a new and terrible despotism crushing and exploiting 
man, with all the abject and servile mentality of serfdom. 
Russia, like Demophoon, has failed to become a God and she 
will never now arise from the fires of the Soviet ordeal. 

Louis Fischer 

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Louis Fischcr ivos boTTi oti February 29, 
1896, in Philadelphia, After a few years as a schoolteacher, he 
found his vocation as a journalist, when he was sent to Berlin 
in 1921 by the New York Post He spent most of the next 
twenty-five years on roving assignments in Europe and Asia, 
Though he never joined any political party, he became a 
champion of Soviet Russia and, later, of Republican Spain, 
which he covered during the Civil War, 

Among his hooks are The Soviets in World AEairs, Men 
and Politics, The Great Challenge, Gandhi and Stalin, and 
Thirteen Who Fled. He is now at work on a full-length biog- 
raphy of Gandhi, 

Xhe adventure literature of my boyhood included tales of 
brave rebels who cheated death by escaping from Siberian 
salt mines. My parents, bom in the small town of Shpola, near 
Kiev, told me of bloody pogroms perpetrated by vodka-filled 
muzhiks. Prince Peter Kropotkin, page to the Czar, became an 
anarchist; his Memoirs of a Revolutionist thrilled me with 
its idealism and humane protest. I read novels by Tolstoy, 
Turgenev, and Dostoyevslg^, and short stories by Gorky and 
Gogol. I had never been in Russia; my mental picture of it 
was confused. Russia seemed cmde and Eastern, civilized yet 
uncivilized, literary yet illiterate; bright dots of culture, im- 


Louis Fischer 197 

perial glamour, and tasteless wealtli stood out against a vast 

The entire world outside America remained hazy to me 
until the beginning of the military conflict with the Kaisers 
Germany, and then the war and my personal involvement in it 
apparently shut out even such tremendous events, crucial to 
the war itself, as the Czar^s abdication in favor of the Pro- 
visional Govenment in March, 1917, and the birth of the 
Soviet regime in November, 1917. Neither of these revolutions 
left a memorable impression on me when they occurred, and 
if they had, I certainly would not have understood why the 
Provisional or “Kerensky^' Government, which, in Lenins 
phrase, made Russia *‘the freest country in the world,'’ should 
nevertheless have been overthrown by the Bolsheviks in favor 
of an avowed dictatorship. 

Home in Philadelphia again in 1920, after overseas military 
service, I had a strong curiosity about the origins of the First 
World War and studied volumes of research by scholars of 
several nationalities. They differed in their conclusions, but 
all distributed the war-guilt widely; in a scale of culpability 
Czarist Russia or Austria-Hungary would have ranked first 
or second, Germany next, followed by France and England. 
All these great powers had, by secret treaties, agreed to carve 
up and sh^e small, helpless nations. This expansionist urge 
of one set of countries ultimately brought them into conflict 
with another set of expanding countries, and then came war. 
Liberal New York weekly magazines now charged that the 
Versailles Peace Conference had worked on the same evil, 
imperialistic principle. Despite occasional lofty admonitions 
from President Woodrow Wilson, the statesmen showed more 
interest in immediate territorial and financial gains than in 
solutions guaranteeing a solid peace. 

My new attitude toward the War and the peace made me 
receptive to Bolshevik criticism of the West. Moscow de- 
nounced annexations and reparations, and warned that they 
were the seeds of another war. A University of Pennsylvania 


Louis Fischer 

engineering student who spoke Russian acquainted me with 
the contents of barbed, bitterly sarcastic notes in which Soviet 
Foreign Commissar Chicherin taunted bourgeois governments 
for their unwarranted intervention in the Russian civil war 
on the side of *'White” reactionaries and Czarists. The Bol- 
sheviks, fighting against heavy odds, defiantly challenged the 
old world which refused to allow a new one to be bom, Russia 
was the underdog battling forces that had made the World 
War but could not make the peace. 

I felt a compulsion to know the Europe that had so recently 
spawned a great war and a revolution, I saved part of my 
income from odd jobs, and in December, 1921, 1 went abroad 
as a free-lance correspondent. 

Europe was a mess. Able-bodied war heroes turned beggars 
wandered through the streets of British cities playing har- 
monicas, singing in quartets, or selling pencils. Rows of seats 
in London theaters were filled solidly by women without men, 
women who had lost their men in the trenches or who had 
never had men and now would never have men because the 
men who might have been theirs lay under poppy fields in 
France and Flanders, . . . Maxim Gorky appealed to the world 
to send food quickly for twenty-five mfllion starving Soviet 
Russians. . . . From Roland in January, 1922, 1 wrote about the 
“crisis which spares nobody” and the “strong strain of chau- 
vinistic nationalism,” Beset by myriad domestic problems, 
Poland nevertheless maintained a “resource-draining army” 
and insisted on annexing Vilna. ... I spent part of the next 
month in Austria. "Vienna,” I reported to the New York Post 
of March 1, 1922, “grows gruesome as evenmg falls. There is 
a strange dullness and absence of motion. The streets are only 
dimly lighted. But in the section of rich caf6s, near the opera, 
expensive theatres, and fashionable hotels, there are light and 
life, taxis, dancing, music, much wine, fine clothes.” Large 
plate-glass windows in banks, stores, restaurants, and hotels 
had been broken during recent popular riots against specu- 

Louis Fischer 


Germany, whose size, natural endowments and central posi- 
tion had enabled her at various periods to contaminate, 
frighten and conquer, or invigorate, stimulate and strengthen 
large areas of Europe, was experiencing a perpetual nightmare 
of monarchistic-republican strife and inflation. At the Inter- 
national Conference in Genoa in April, 1922, the Western 
victors, unable to forget, forgive, or imite, pushed Russia, the 
revolutionary pariah, and Germany, the war pariah, into a 
diplomatic-commercial entente; the outcasts agreed to arm 
one another illegally. * 

Dazed, and still dripping with blood from the First World 
War, Europe was already blundering toward a second, while, 
at best, citizens and politicians wrung their hands in helpless 

Meantime, I kept hearing and reading about Soviet Russia. 
The Bolsheviks glorified the common man and offered him 
land, bread, peace, a job, a house, security, education, health, 
art, and happiness. They championed international brother- 
hood. They would abolish racial discrimination, exploitation, 
inequality, the power of wealth, the rights of kings, the lust 
for territory. They proudly liberated Poland, Finland and the 
Baltic countries from Russia's rule. They renounced the Czar s 
special privileges in China and his spheres of influence — ^with 
its oil concession — in Persia. The oppressed of the world, and 
the friends of the oppressed, accordingly saw Soviet Russia 
as the herald of a new era. 

A state covering one-sixth of the surface of the globe had 
joined the Sunday afternoon soapbox orator and was talking 
his language. For the first time, a government undertook to 
fulfill the dreams of the reformers, iconoclasts, and pioneers of 
all ages. A thrill shot through humanity. Fear shook the up- 
holders of privilege, tradition, militarism, empire, white su- 
premacy, and the status quo; their fear spurred others' hope. 

The unique appeal of the Bolshevik Revolution was its 
universality. It did not propose merely to iutroduce drastic 
change in Russia. It envisaged the world-wide abolition of 


Louis Fischer 

war, poverty, and sujBEering. In all countries, therefore, the 
little man, the laborer, and the intellectual felt that something 
important had taken place in their lives when revolution took 
root in Russia. Actually, this general sympathy stemmed more 
from discontent with conditions in their own countries than 
from knowledge of conditions inside Russia. Most people did 
not quite know what had happened or was happening under 
the Bolshevik regime, but everybody talked a^out it with heat 
The partisans leaned on promises and 'objective'" diflBlculties; 
the detractors cited the absence oP achievement. This un- 
ending, passionate debate stimulated my desire for first-hand 

I went to Moscow from Berlin in September, 1922, equipped 
with not a word of Russian, little understanding of the Soviet 
System, and some sympathy for its aspirations, but knowing 
that conditions were terrible. I was not traveling to Utopia 
or Mecca. 

Peasant revolts, starvation, and moribund production had 
compelled the Soviet government, in the spring of 1921, to 
introduce the New Economic Policy, or NEP, which legalized 
domestic capitalism and concessions to foreign capitalists. The 
weak Bolshevik regime was pulled back into the past. Lenin 
admitted the retreat; he never masked setbacks. Petty street 
hawkers of underwear, socks, rubber heels, corsets^ silverware, 
and other ancient objects appeared like a rash over the face 
of Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, etc. The countryside buzzed with 
hopeful get-rich-quick "Nepmen." The government operated 
huge gambling casinos, luxury restaurants and cabarets full 
of foods unavailable to the average citizens. 

None of this suggested Communism or a new way of life. 
The capitalist instinct was apparently a very powerful one 
and sprang to life on the first touch of NEP. I wondered 
whether the Revolution was petering out. Communists said, 
No. Material things gave little evidence of Bolshevism; but 
the spirit of the Communists did. 

The Communist Party was Soviet Russia's most remarkable 

Louis Fischer 


institution. In the requirements of austerity and dedication 
imposed on members, it resembled a monastic order. Its tra- 
dition of automatic obedience, secrecy, and strict discipline 
made it kin to a military caste. It served as dynamo, watchdog, 
and inspiration of the regime. It originated policy and was 
the sole source of political power, yet it did not directly ex- 
ercise power. That was the function of the government bu- 
reaucracy. The Party instructed, prodded, and supervised the 
government. This division of tasks was designed to prevent 
die corrupting eflEect of high office and power on individual 
Communists. Most government officials were Party members, 
but thousands of leading Communists (Stalin, Zinoviev, 
BuMiarin, for instance) did not hold government jobs. 

Communists addressed one another as "comrade’^ and the 
majority received a uniform low salary which conduced to 
spartan living and puritanism. The Communist's duties out- 
numbered his privileges. The Party expected him to be a 
model of antireligious zeal, ideological loyalty, personal mor- 
ality, and political devotion. Lapses were severely punished. 

Russia throbbed with dynamic energy. The cities seemed 
to be filled with people fresh from the forests and wheat 
fields. Young persons dominated every scene. Lenin was 52 
in 1922, Trotsky 43, Stalin 43, Zinoviev 39, Kamenev 39, 
Bukharin 34, Radek 37. 

The Revolution was a churning process which ground the 
former ruling castes into dust and brought new vital forces 
to the surface. Grateful for the opportunity, they were ready 
to accept discipline, hard work, and sacrifices. Famine stiU 
gripped wide expanses of the country; a meal cost billions of 
roubles; Russia's inflation was even worse than Germany's; 
the inherited poverty, aggravated by world war, civil war, 
and revolutionary ravages, staggered me; yet the regime and 
its supporters manifested neither pessimism nor fatigue. 

The enthusiasm was infectious, ''^y should foreign govern- 
ments, and foreign diplomats and correspondents in Moscow, 
obstruct and deride the efforts of a great nation to pull itself 


Louis Fischer 

out of the mire? Bom and bred in poverty, I instinctively 
welcomed any endeavor to eradicate it. The Bolsheviks' con- 
fiscation of private capital and nationalization of land did not 
prejudice me against them. The Revolution broke completely 
with the past. Ibat was its chief attraction. The past was black. 
Now the Soviets were groping in an unmapped area toward 
something never previously seen or sketched. I admired their 
courage. No one could doubt their sincerity. ^ 

At die top of a list of Communist virtues stood international- 
ism. National frontiers are often the Consequence of robbery 
and aggression. Nationalism, the breeder of wars, economic 
rivalries, and hatreds, is a variety of racism. But the Bolsheviks 
regarded all races as equal though different. Over a hundred 
ethnic populations inhabited the Soviet Union; the more ad- 
vanced discriminated in favor of those wronged by the chances 
of history and geography. Abroad Bolshevism recognized na- 
tional divisions but fostered an international Communist so- 
ciety to supersede them and thereby create permanent world 

Almost all nations had been hostile, prejudiced, and unfair 
to the new Russia. The collection of dead debts, the restitution 
of nationalized properties, and the venting of ideological 
animosities seemed more urgent to capitalist diplomacy than 
the establishment of normal political and economic contacts 
which would have hastened real peace and recovery. 

Talking with Soviet friends, one would condemn Bolshevik 
stupidities and crudities, but on trips to Europe and America 
I found people arrayed in two opposing camps, one pro-Soviet, 
the other anti-Soviet, and I just could not join the latter. Rus- 
sia's basic aspirations became more attractive to me after a 
look at the dull “normalcy" of the Harding-Coolidge era in 
the U.S.A. and the aimlessness of Europe. Vacillating democ- 
racy in Italy had already succumbed to Mussolini Fascism. 
The German Socialists had muffed a unique postwar oppor- 
tunity to immunize their country's past and potential war- 
makers: the Junkers, militarists, and monopoly industrialists. 

Louis Fischer 


This historic blunder of moderation closed my mind to the 
fierce moderate-socialistic criticism of the Bolsheviks who did 
liquidate Russia's political and economic royalists. It also 
kept me from regarding democratic reform-socialism as an 
alternative to capitalism. 

Before long, I realized that my choice was made. A choice 
depends on the available alternative to it. I preferred fresh 
sweeping winds to stale stagnant air, and well-intentioned 
pioneers to proved failures. I liked the Soviets because they 
were an experiment m the interest of the downtrodden 
majority, because they destroyed the privileges of the power- 
ful few, because they were weak, and because the world's 
conservatives and reactionaries opposed them. All these pref- 
erences and likes arose from a temperamental predisposition 
which, almost imperceptibly, soon made me a partisan of the 
Soviet Union. 

One's general alignment with a cause is more compelling 
than all but the most shocking facts about it. Just as religious 
conviction is impervious to logical argument and, indeed, 
does not result from logical processes, just as nationalist de- 
votion or personal affection defies a mountain of evidence, 
so my pro-Soviet attitude attained complete independence 
from day-to-day events. Developments which seemed detri- 
mental to Russia were regarded as ephemeral, dishonestly 
interpreted,' or canceled out by more significant and counter- 
vailing developments. I studied conditions carefully and re- 
ported them faithfully. Sometimes they were no credit to 
Bolshevism, but that did not weaken my admiration of the 
Soviet System or my belief in its bright future. 

The New York Nation of March 4, 1925, published my article 
on ^Tolitical Prisoners Under Bolshevism," in which I referred 
to Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, two weU-known 
anarchists who visited Soviet Russia in 1920-21. In those years, 
I said, 

More political prisoners crowded the jails than today 

and they were worse treated. Berkman and Goldman knew 

204 Louis Fischer 

these things, for they enjoyed freedom of movement and 
the company of many anti-Bolsheviks who kept them in- 
formed. Nevertheless they found it possible to support the 
Communists and to lend themselves to winning anarchist 
converts to the Bolshevik cause. In other words, when you 
are pro-Soviet, political prisoners and imprisonment are a 
blot on the fair escutcheon which you regret; when you 
grow disillusioned, they become a weapon for an open 
struggle against Russia, r 

Alexander Berkman criticized my ©statement From Berlin 
he wrote, 

Entirely well-disposed toward the Bolsheviki, as I was 
during the first year of my stay in Russia, and anxious to 
aid in constructive revolutionary work, I sought every op- 
portunity to convince the Communist leaders that a policy 
of revolutionary tolerance and an ethical attitude toward 
their political opponents from the Left would serve the 
revolution far better than persecution. Even after my final 
and open break with the Bolsheviki, after the Kronstadt 
blood bath, I still strove to help change their policy toward 
the imprisoned revolutionaries. 

Berkman only confirmed my thesis. He was pro-Soviet 
while abominating the inhumane Bolshevik treatment of po- 
'litical prisoners. Later the draconic Soviet suppression of the 
sailors^ revolt on the Island of Kronstadt near Petrograd em- 


bittered him against the entire Soviet regime. This ‘‘Kronstadt 
blood bath” transformed the Bolshevik treatment of prisoners 
from a subject of private protest to a reason for public attack. 
Moscow^s cruelty toward political prisoners lessened Berk- 
man’s immunity to the shock of Kronstadt, but it was only 
after Kronstadt that Berkman became an avowed enemy. 
tfVhat counts decisively is the “Kronstadt.” Until its advent, 
bne may waver emotionally or doubt intellectually or even 
reject the cause altogether in one’s mind and yet refuse to 
attack it. 

I had no “Kronstadt” for many years. 

Louis Fischer 


Througliout, I consciously and subconsciously weighed the 
Soviet regime in the balance. My reading of the scales, of 
course, depended on what I put into them. On the one hand, 
it was obvious to me in 1924 that the Soviet State “has dis- 
regarded the wishes of the human unit. Liberty is not as 
sacred an ikon as it is in the West. To give economic freedom 
to the mass is a nobler aim. Thus the Communists would ex- 
plain and justify (but in my opinion this does not justify) 
the absence of a free press and the activities of the GPTJ.*’ 
I condemned Bolshevik suppression of personal freedom, 
which has always meant more to me than practically anything 
else. On the other hand, I noted in the same article that “the 
aim^Df the Bolsheviks was a new society” — and this new society 
without exploitation outweighed the absence of a free press 
and the presence of the secret police. 

The Soviet promise stimulated my imagination. The Soviet 
government s promissory notes and its postdated checks, even 
when postdated a whole decade, were more valuable evidence 
than tiie inefficiency and insufficiency of current industrial 
production. Russia’s ugly past and her plans for the beautiful 
future shaped every judgment of the present. The future was 
Bolshevik capital. The Bolsheviks offered to sell everybody 
a share in it. They presented each new Five Year Plan as a 
hard but necessary step in the ascent to the new world. How 
could you complain about the scarcity of potatoes when you 
were building Socialism? Wouldn’t you forego butter for 
Dnieperstroy and Magnitogorsk, which meant more water 
power, more steel, and ultimately more butter? 

The Soviets knew the hypnotic effect of the great dream, 
and as the promised future faded into the past they strove 
to keep alive the trust in delayed benefits. Among other things, 
they ordered all writers, in the middle of the 1930’s, to treat 
the present as though it did not exist and the future as if it 
had already arrived. This literary device became known as 
“Socialist realism.” 

Vsevolod Ivanov, a well-known Soviet novelist, was writing 


Louis Fischer 

a novel about life at the new gigantic automobile factory in 
Gorky. For better acquaintance with his subject he went to 
stay at the plant, and while there he read parts of his manu- 
script to meetings of working people. He read them a chapter 
dealing with the difficulties encountered by the workers in 
travelhig great distances in poor buses over bad roads. Com- 
munists at the meetings took him to task. 

‘‘How long before you finish the novel?'' they asked. 

“Six months," Ivanov estimated. 

“Then the censoring will require a few months, and printing 
a few more. Your book won't appear until a year from now 
and in a year we will have good roads, new buses, and new 
apartment houses near the plant. So why not describe these 
roads, buses and homes as already existing?" 

Once I was ill in Moscow for several weeks. After a time, 
when friends telephoned to inquire about me, Markoosha, 
my wife, would reply, “He's much better but he doesn't know 
it yet." That was a domestic version of “Socialist realism,” 
intended, since it was said m my hearing, to serve as a kind 
of Coueistic propaganda. 

“Socialist realism" is the Soviet device for distorting the 
truth about the present. The opposite to “Socialist realism” 
is “formalism," usually condemned as “bourgeois formalism” 
because of its excessive loyalty to facts instead of hopes. 

“Pie by and by" sustains young ambitious meii and their 
parents. It sustained those who expected the new Soviet so- 
ciety to break ground for mankind's betterment. They looked 
on every inch of progress as an earnest of miles of further 

Probably because it supports my innate faith in progress, 
construction excites me, and the Soviet construction of huge 
factories, hydro-electric power stations, and towns excited me 
the more since I looked at it through the magnifying glass 
of hope. This was but the initial installment of a grandiose 
program which would change the face and raise Ae living 
standards of an unfortunate coxmtry, and thereby demonstrate 

Louis Fischer 


that governments of the people could work effectively and 
exclusively for the people. 

Statistics of industrial growth now commenced to fill the 
Soviet press. They were the music of Socialism, the overture 
to the new society. I was present at the birth of the mammoth 
tractor factory in Kharkov when the ground was being cleared, 
and I visited the construction site once a year. Later I toured 
the plant annually. I felt related to it. 

Similarly, the* Dnieperstroy Dam. With the chief Soviet 
engineer I climbed ove^j the boulders on the river-bed when 
the water was first pumped away, and five years later I drove 
in a car over the mighty concrete wall, more than a hundred 
feet^high and a third of a mile long, which rested on those 
boulders. The Soviets had built a Niagara to bring light, heat, 
and consumers" goods to millions. When the Nazis blew up a 
section of that dam, it hurt me. 

Abroad, numerous power stations and factories stood silent. 
The 1929 Wall Street crash and the depression threw millions 
into bread lines and despair. This too weighed in the scales 
and tipped the balance toward the Soviet side. Capitalist 
economists and intellectuals came to study Soviet planning 
and wondered whether it could be applied at home. 

Parallel with industrialization in the Soviet Union, the gov- 
ernment spurred the collectivization of agriculture. One of 
these tasks would have strained the capacities of any regime. 
The Bolsheviks took on both simultaneously. In 1929, the 
authorities started a process whereby the small farms of at 
least a hundred million private-capitalistic peasants would 
be merged into collectives. 

Collectivization was the first revolution in the organization 
of agriculture since the land-chained serfs of Europe became 
free, land-owning peasants. Collectives promised rational, 
large-scale production. As the urban factory replaced the 
artisan of the Middle Ages so the kolhoz would replace the 
small individual farmer. Collectivization looked like a turning 
point in human events. With the drastic dramatism that char- 


Louis Fischer 

acterizes them, the Bolsheviks squeezed this whole chapter of 
sociological development into a few quick years. The foreign 
observer congratulated himself; history was being made under 
his eyes. 

Yet collectivization was the "Kronstadt’^ of many foreign 
sympathizers and, incidentally, of innumerable Soviet citizens 
who realized before I did that the collectives were an in- 
genious, twentieth-century form of wholesale serfdom which 
forced the peasant to work under the eyes and prods of picked 
village Communists and made him dependent on the state for 
seed, tools, work animals, and most of his income. 

This nationalization of agriculture naturally encountered 
fierce, far-flung peasant resistance and we saw how the gov- 
ernment responded. It banished hundreds of thousands of 
kulaks, or prosperous farmers, to slave-labor camps. Even 
these mass deportations did not break the village’s opposition. 
Poorer peasants refused to take their animals into the col- 
lectives and either sold or ate them before they yielded to the 
pressure and accepted membership. The consequent shortage 
of livestock and horses plagues Russia to this day. The au- 
thorities employed force to drive the peasants into collectives. 
Red Army units frequently appeared in a village and went 
from hut to hut ordering the inhabitants to form a kolhoz. 
Peasants were threatened with exile to Siberia and Turkestan 
as kulaks if they persisted in individual farming. 

By such methods the vast majority of Russia’s peasants were 
corralled into collectives. But once in, many sulked or sabo- 
taged the co-operative effort; they still hoped the government 
would abandon the collectives as failures. In the Ukraine these 
circumstances produced the famine of 1931-32, which killed 
several million people. Whole villages died. The price of Bol- 
shevik haste and dogmatism was enormous. 

I visited scores of collectives in the Ukraine, Crimea, the 
Caucasus, and Northern Russia between 1932 and 1936. They 
were far superior to the tiny strip farms of earlier years. 
Fences and dividing ruts had disappeared. Machinery had 

Louis Fischer 


been introduced. Childrens’ creches and kindergartens had 
been established. Officials said the yield per unit of land had 
risen. Seed experiments, artificial cattle insemination, deep 
electric plowing, and other scientific innovations beyond the 
private peasants wildest fancy were now available to the 

Did the pros equal the cons? Did the promise equal the 

My own attitude began to bother me. Was I not glorifying 
steel and kilowatts and* forgetting the human being? All the 
shoes, schools, books, tractors, electric light, and subways 
in the world would not add up to the world of my dreams 
if the system that produced them was immoral and inhuman. 

Black squares appeared in the weave of my Soviet im- 
pressions. The Bolsheviks staged the first of their big Moscow 
trials in June, 1928: the Shakhti trial. About fifty important 
Soviet engineers were charged with sabotage and espionage. 
I sat through the proceedings in the famous Hall of Columns. 
I did not know how much to believe. I believed part. I 
wondered about the remainder. My doubts grew when a 
GPU soldier with bayoneted rifie led a person named Mukhin 
to the witness stand. To this day I remember his name, his 
brown suit, and his pasty, fleshy, sallow, round face. He gave 
evidence against Defendant Rabinovitch, a man past seventy 
who, fighting brilhantly for his life, had all but worsted the 
terrifying, theretofore-invincible Prosecutor Krylenko in brain- 
to-brain combat. Mukhin was brought in to clinch the case 
for the government. He had been in prison for several months 
on a charge unrelated to the current Shakhti trial. Mukhin 
declared under oath that he handed Rabinovitch a bribe for 
himself and further bribes for distribution among other de- 

Rabinovitch walked over to 'within two feet of Mukhin and, 
peering straight into his eyes, said, ^‘Tell me, please, about 
whom are you speaking, about me or somebody else?” 

“I am talking about you,” Mukhin repHed. 


Louis Fischer 

‘Why do you lie, eh?’" Rabinovitch exclaimed. ‘Who told 
you to he? You know you gave me no money.” 

Mukhin, pastier and paler than before, repeated his story 
like a tutored automaton. The GPU soldier marched him out 
of the courtroom. Krylenko looked crestfallen. Clearly, Mukhin 
had merely enacted a part invented for him in the cellar of 
the GPU. I shared my interpretation of the scene with a key 
oflficial of the Foreign Affairs Commissariat. He knew me well 
and did not dissent. 

The Mukhin act in isolation might ^ot have been very sig- 
nificant. But it could not stand alone because the GPU, whi^ 
directed it, had been gaming power and new functions and, 
therefore, a new arbitrariness. In January, 1928, Leon Trotsky 
was arrested and banished to Central Asia. His crime consisted 
in doctrinal and political differences with Stalin. Before the 
Revolution and under Lenin’s leadership such controversies 
were resolved by Communist Party debates and ballots. Now 
the revolver of the GPU became the supreme argument. 

Irrespective of the merits of Trotsky’s or Stalin’s position — 
and on rereading my reports I find that I aligned myself with 
neither — ^the use of the secret police to end a dispute on policy 
was the Communist Party’s Waterloo. Thereafter, those who 
had force would think they had wisdom. Dissenters preferred 
security to self-expression. Cynicism accordingly - triumphed 
over honesty. 

I noted these phenomena but did not understand that they 
were the beginning of a decadence that has produced today’s 
great lie and great silence. Inevitably, too, they contributed 
to the emergence of The Great Leader. 

Everything in me rebelled against the fawning adulation 
and saccharine glorification of Joseph Stalin. The oflBcial 
propaganda, for which he himself was responsible, portrayed 
him as the infallible, kind, omniscient author of everything 
that was good in the Soviet Union. From him all blessings 
flowed. Necessarily, of comse, blunders, mass suffering, and 

Louis Fischer 


setbacks were the handiwork of '‘wreckers,'" "Trotskyites,'' 
and "enemies of the people ” 

I vented my repugnance for Stalin-idolatry in an article 
written in Moscow and published in New York in 1930. I 
placed the responsibility at Stalins door and called it the 
worst of aU names: "anti-Bolshevik.” Actually, I see now, it 
was Bolshevik, the inescapable end-effect of dictatorship. Mus- 
solini and Hitler conducted similar symphonies of self-praise. 
At the time, I cJid not realize that Stalins bad taste and the 
GPU's bad behavior were deadly germs. I thought they were 
sores on a healthy body which was building new cities and 
creating new values. I thought the favorable was fundamental 
and* the unfavorable ephemeral. Hope distorted judgment. 
Seeing did not interfere with believing. 

Perhaps disenchantment was slowly maturing. But no con- 
scious "Kronstadt” threatened, and if it had. Hitlers advent 
in 1933 would have prevented me from rejecting the Soviet 
regime. The Nazis loudly avowed their cult: the axe ("Heads 
wiU roll,” Hitler said), the Fiihrer, an expanded Germany, 
antisemitism, and anti-Communism. If they won, the world 
would sink into barbarism and blood. The German Com- 
munists had helped Hitler come to power; they thought the 
destruction of the democratic center would facilitate their 
struggle with the Nazi extreme. This is an incurable Com- 
mimist miscalculation. But once the Fascists took over in 
Germany, German and other Communists led the anti-Nazi 
fight, and, after at least a year of hesitation, the Soviet gov- 
ernment joined that fight. Capitalist nations recognized the 
Hitler menace much later. 

Soviet Foreign Commissar Litvinov now launched a dy- 
namic drive for an anti-Fascist coalition to check the descent 
to war. In Geneva he mercilessly flayed the appeasers of 
Hitler, Mussc^i, and Japan. His success among journalists 
and pacifists was no compensation for his failure to alter the 
policies of conservative and opportunist bourgeois govern- 
ments. Yet Litvinov's name became a symbol, and as such it 

212 Louis Fischer 

still stands to mock those who contend that only the Fascist 
aggressors made the Second World War. Hitler had many 
active and passive democratic collaborators. 

It seemed better strategy to combat Hitler than to combat 
the Soviet government, which was urging a world mobilization 
against Fascism and war. Veteran critics of Moscow on the 
Left half of the political semicircle moderated their attacks 
and, here and there, closed ranks to form the Liberal-Socialist- 
Communist Popular Front. Even old "Kronstadters’' subsided 
into silence; few new recruits joined their flag in the first two 
or tliree years after the establishment of the Hitler regime. 

In Russia, living conditions improved measurably, though 
by foreign standards meagerly, during 1935. At the same ^pne. 
Communist morality and idealism were disintegrating. The 
GPU’s intervention in Stalin’s ideological assaults on the Left 
and Right oppositions reduced the Communist Party to an 
obedient rubber stamp of the personal dictator. Its bureauc- 
racy merged with the greater bureaucracy of the government 
and both bred sycophants, cynics and cowards. In the highest 
rank as well as in the lowest, fear rather than thought, self- 
interest rather than public welfare was the father of every 
word and deed. Anybody who had uttered a dissenting view 
in the past or whose independence and originality might 
some day nurture unorthodoxy received a two a.m. visit from 
the secret pohce and soon joined the involuntary T)uilders of 
Socialism” in Siberia and the Arctic wastes. 

The cautious, calculating, submissive, nervous time-servers 
in the apparatus of the government. Party, and trade unions, 
watched their step, looked over their shoulders, loudly pro- 
fessed loyalty, monotonously repeated the official propaganda, 
and, for solace, tried to eat, drink, dance and, in general, live 
as luxuriously as the relaxed material standards permitted. 
The Kremlin decreed equality "a bourgeois virtue.” It cer- 
tainly was not a Soviet virtue. The spread between richest 
and poorest reached super-capitalist dimensions. Piece work 
for labor was now universal and the trade unions became 


Louis Fischer 

paper organizations, while the directors of factories and ofiSces 
became "sole commanders"^ who hired, fired, and fixed wages. 

In December, 1934, a young man named Nikolaiev shot 
and killed Sergei Kirov, the Communist boss of Leningrad, 
Number Four Bolshevik of the Soviet Union, Forthwith, the 
GPU executed 103 persons who were in jail and had been in 
jail for many months before Kirovs death. Then Leninas 
co-worker Zinovjev was exiled for the same deed. Then the 
heads of the GPU in Leningrad were punished for it I was sick 
at heart. The Soviet Statft, doomed by theory to "wither away,” 
had expanded into a cruel, overgrown Frankenstein. Abroad, to 
be sure, this same Bolshevik government continued its efforts 
to mold a collective-security bloc against Fascist aggression. 
But I felt that this was not enough. "I believe,” I wrote in an 
article in the New York Nation^ "that the democratization of 
the Soviet Union would weaken the enemies of peace.” 

One evening in Moscow I read this sentence from my manu- 
script to Constantine Oumansky, chief of the Foreign Office 
Press Department, and to his assistant, Boris Mironov. Mironov 
agreed. Oumansky, the rigid official, said it wasnt relevant. 
Subsequently, in connection with one of the trials, Mironov 
was shot. Oumansky became ambassador at Washington and 
Mexico; within a decade he too succumbed in a mysterious 
airplane accident. 

Democracy inside Russia would have been very relevant 
to the policy of collaboration for peace with the Western 
democracies against Hitler. A democratic Russia would have 
helped anti-Fascist forces in England and France unseat their 
Neville Chamberlains and Daladiers. A democratic Russia 
would have avoided the Stalin purge and the Moscow trials, 
which weakened Russia economically and militarily. A demo- 
cratic Russia would not have signed the 1939 pact with Hitler. 
A democratic Russia, in other words, might have prevented 
the war which the totalitarian Soviets helped to precipitate. 

Except for the compulsions to folly inherent in his own 
system, Stalin is wise, and there are indications that he was 


Louis Fischer 

aware of the internal crisis caused by waxing oppression and 
waning faith. The Bolsheviks had spent the spiritual heritage 
of the Revolution. To be sure, by 1935 there was more bread, 
but man does not live by bread alone, especially when its 
supply is precarious. The regime needed new popular incen- 
tives. It accentuated the already inaugurated policy of grant- 
ing ever-growing special privileges and emoluments to the 
army, the GPU, the engineers, the aristocracy of the pro- 
letariat, and the upper reaches of the state bureaucracy, who, 
together, constituted the mercenary praetorian guard of the 
Soviet System. But the only new and untried incentives avail- 
able to the Bolshevik regime were nationalism and freedom. 
Stalin tried nationalism. 

Having destroyed the vision of the future, the dictatorship 
had no choice but to turn its back on the future and embrace 
the past. That was the essence of the nationalist *line"^ adopted 
by Ae Kremlin in 1934. The Nazi revolution began with the 
glorification of Germany s past. The Bolshevik Revolution 
ended when it glorified Russian's past. 

Russia had a great past and its heroes were anti-Czarist 
rebels. This new phase, however, celebrated not the rebels 
but the Czars. Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Catherine 
the Great, Czarist princes, anti-revolutionary Czarist generals 
like Suvorov, and monks of the Middle Ages were lifted out 
of cobwebs, dusted off, refurbished as national saints, and 
presented for worship to a startled people who had earlier 
been taught to abhor them. These antics merely intensified the 
crisis of faith that commenced when the nation was told that 
Trotsky and other fathers of the Revolution were Fascists. If 
Trotsky was a Fascist and Ivan the Terrible a Soviet hero, all 
fixed standards of judgment vanished and nobody knew what 
to believe. Tonight, the angels of this morning might be de- 
clared devils. The resulting mental confusion conduced to 
hypocrisy and automatic, unthinking acceptance of the un- 
predictable revelations from the heights of the Kremlin. 
Therein lay at least a minimum of personal security. 

Louis Fischer 


The new nationalism was Russian nationalism. Goose-step- 
ping scholars rewrote history to prove that Czarist Russia had 
not been a "prison of nations’^ as Communists used to con- 
tend. The study of the Russian language was made obligatory 
for all national minorities. The outward trappings of Czarism, 
formerly reviled by the Bolsheviks as relics of the ugly past, 
were restored; titles for army officers and epaulets reappeared. 
This was the inception of the new dogma of Russia Uber 
alleSy of the strident exclusive nationalism which, a few years 
later, led to the scrapping of the "Internationale'* in favor of 
an anthem dedicated to Russia, to the employment of the 
church as an instrument of the Soviet government at home 
and'iabroad, to the emergence of bemedaled marshals looking 
like Goring, to the rise of Soviet imperialism (the child of 
nationalism), and to official propaganda for Pan-Slavism, a 
teaching as pregnant with evil as Pan-Germanism. Inevitably, 
these deep and reactionary changes have provoked interracial 
frictions in the Soviet Union. 

The Bolshevik regime represented a revolt against the ugly 
material, cultural, and psychological heritage of Czarism. But 
Czarism proved very resistant, and the outside world did not 
help the new to defeat the old. 

The fact that Bolshevism would want to drink at the mouldy 
wells of Czarism shocked and repelled me. My strongest bond 
with the Soviet System had been its internationalism and its 
forward look. 

Suddenly, in 1935, whispers about a new democratic consti- 
tution were heard, and in 1936 it became official. The "Stalin 
Constitution." I clutched at it. I wanted to believe. I did not 
want to forswear a cause in which I had made such a large 
spiritual investment. Maybe Stalin understood that the people 
thirsted for freedom. They had had it, as Lenin said, in the 
brief Kerensky interlude. Indeed, they had had more of it 
under Nicholas the Second than under the Bolsheviks. Now 
that all the hostile classes in the Soviet Union had been liqui- 
dated beyond recall, Stalin could, without danger to the 

216 Louis Fischer 

regime, grant a new charter of liberty which would release 
new enthusiasm, recapture some of the old elan, and thereby 
facilitate the tasks of the government both in administration 
and production. I wanted to believe that a dictatorship bom 
of noble motives could abdicate. 

I recognized the Constitutions deficiency. It enunciates an 
inspiring bill of rights but describes no executive machinery to 
implement it and no judiciary to safeguard it. I discussed this 
with Karl Radek on the eve of the publication of the Con- 

Radek was a Soviet writer, friend of Lenin, member of the 
inner party circle, co-worker of Stalin, and brilliant conversa- 
tionalist. He knew all the answers. He would put a question, 
and before one could formulate a reply he gave it himself. 
On this occasion, I said to him, "The question of the Consti- 
tution is a question of the GPU.^’ 

He was dumbfounded and silent for fully two minutes, walk- 
ing up and down the length of his room. “You are right,^' he 
finally declared. 

Stalin was having trouble "with the GPU. Under Yagoda, 
later executed for his ambitions, the GPU attempted to make 
itself the head as well as the arm of the dictatorship. It aspired 
to be a state within a state. Stalin was purging it. Would he 
also curb, restrain, and dismantle it, and thus convert the 
Constitution into an encouraging reality? If not, the charter 
that bore his name would remain a blunt arrow in the quiver 
of the professional Soviet agitator, and a device to mislead 
foreign and domestic innocents. 

While I was assiduously collecting indications to nurture my 
hopes, they were completely blasted. The GPU was neither 
curbed nor restrained nor dismantled. It was merely reshuffled 
and then clothed with more rights at the expense of the bill 
of rights. 

The noisy Moscow trials of 1936, 1937, and 1938 were al- 
ready in preparation. In their course, the public would be 
shown only a tiny fraction of those many thousands whose 

Louis Fischer 


death, without trial, from a shot in the back of the neck in 
GPU cellars, beat a shrill discord to the official hosannahs 
for the new “Stalin Constitution/" 

The black plague cast its shadows before, and by the middle 
of 1936, with the trials still to be announced, I sensed the on- 
coming night and knew that I no longer wished to live in the 
Soviet Union. 

I could still wax enthusiastic about the potential achieve- 
ments of new facT:ories and new agricultural methods. I loved 
the Soviet people. I hoped they would some day have more 
shoes, homes, electric light. They were having more schools, 
medical treatment, and vacation facilities. But when I first 
came^to Soviet Russia, practical attainments of the Revolution 
were negligible; the spirit, however, was strong. It was a spirit 
of idealistic dedication and courageous protest. Communism 
stood for revolt and change. Now, nineteen years after the 
fiery birth of the Bolshevik regime, ubiquitous fear, amply 
justified by the terror, had killed revolt, silenced protest, and 
destroyed civil courage. In place of idealism, cynical safety- 
first. In place of dedication, piursuit of personal aggrandizement. 
In place of living spirit, dead conformism, bureaucratic formal- 
ism, and the parroting of false cliches. 

These thoughts, neither clear nor complete, coursed through 
my mind. Officials who were friends of mine dropped oc- 
casional hints but no longer talked from the heart. Journalistic 
work in Moscow had lost all its excitement and inner com- 
pensation. Why should I live in such a country? 

At this very juncture — ^July, 1936 — civil war erupted in 
Spain. General Francisco Franco, aided by other reactionary 
nxilitarists, the Fascist Falange, the monarchists, the rich aris- 
tocracy, and the big landlords, had launched an insurrection 
against the liberal, enlightened, legally-elected government. 

The Spanish people had won my heart during visits in 1934 
and the spring of 1936. They are cultured even when illiterate 
and starving. They have temperament and a penchant for 
dramatic pose which would be repulsive if it were not so 


Louis Fischer 

profoundly dignified. Form is important to them. It was a 
Spanish woman who said, “We would rather die on our feet 
than live on our knees."^ And they had been living for centuries 
on their knees, held down in poverty and oppression by a 
thin, backward-looking upper stratum which kept out the 
French Revolution and, in 1936, undertook to keep out the 
twentieth century. That was the purpose of Francois insur- 
rection. Therefore, it immediately received military supplies 
and personnel from Hitler and Mussolini. 

Spain now became the front line^against Fascism. I gladly 
left Russia to be near the batde. Death stalked Russia in the 
cellar. Death came to Spain in open combat in the sun. Spain 
was sad but noble. ^ 

The Spanish Civil War postponed my “Kronstadt."^ It held 
my attention and absorbed my energy. But the Soviet Union 
always remained in the back of my mind. I could reflect on 
it at a distance that lent perspective. 

The Republic’s struggle against Fascism in Spain was prob- 
ably the zenith of political idealism in the first half of the 
twentieth century. Even in the best years, the outside sym- 
pathy for Soviet Russia was political and cerebral. Bolshevism 
inspired vehement passions in its foreign adherents but little 
of the tenderness and intimacy which Loyalist Spain evoked. 
The pro-Loyalists loved the Spanish people and participated 
painfully in their ordeal by bullet, bomb, and hunger. The 
Soviet System elicited intellectual approval, the Spanish strug- 
gle aroused emotional identification. Loyalist Spain was always 
the weaker side, the loser, and its friends felt a constant, tense 
concern lest its strength end. Only those who lived with Spain 
through the thirty-three tragic months from July, 1936, to 
March, 1939, can fully understand the joy of victory and the 
more frequent pang of defeat which the ups and downs of 
the Civil War brought to its millions of distant participants. 

After observing the situation for several months, I decided 
that writing about a struggle so crucial to the future of free- 
dom and world peace was not enough. I therefore enlisted in 

Louis Fischer 


the International Brigade, the first American to do so. Andr6 
Marty, French Communist leader and the chief commissar 
of the Brigade, appointed me quartermaster. But he loved 
power and abused it, in the GPU way, through nocturnal 
arrests and similar outrages. Soon, the presence of an inde- 
pendent, non-Communist began to irk him, and my efforts 
were transferred to other fields. They continued till the col- 
lapse of the repu]plic. 

We were all convinced that the Spanish contest was the 
first battle of the approaching Second World War. Germany 
and Italy treated it as such. They used it to test their weapons 
and train their men and, above all, to entrench an ally in the 
strategic peninsula. But England, France, and the United 
States, with rare myopia and a pathological urge for self- 
punishment, did almost everything in their power to destroy 
the democratic republic which would have been tlieir eager 
and valuable associate in an anti-Fascist war. 

Mexico, and among the great powers only Soviet Russia, 
gave arms and experts to the Loyalist government. Moscow's 
assistance could not have suflSced for victory. It was predicated 
on the ultimate abandonment by Prime Minister Chamberlain 
and Premier Daladier of their pro-Franco, pro-Nazi, pro- 
Fascist appeasement policy. That consummation might have 
prevented the Second World War or won for the democracies 
an invaluable fortress in Spain from which to wage it. But 
ivhen they failed to save, and indeed dismembered, Czecho- 
slovakia at Munich in September, 1938, it was clear that they 
would not save the Loyalists. Thereafter, the Spanish Republic 
was doomed, and Soviet aid abated. 

At the front, on airfields, in hospitals, staff headquarters, 
and private apartments I met many of the Soviet Russians who 
had been sent to do their best for the Loyalists. In all the 
Spanish War, there were no more tireless workers, valiant 
fighters, and devoted partisans. They seemed to pour into the 
Spanish struggle the pent-up revolutionary passion which no 
longer found application in Russia. Innumerable persons in 

Louis Fischer 


the Soviet Union felt the same way and hoped that Spain 
would be a spiritual blood transfusion for the prostrate elan 
of Bolshevism. But on trips in 1937 and 1938 to see my wife 
and two sons in Moscow, I found the funereal atmosphere 
blacker than ever. Stalin and his new GPU chief, Yezhov, had 
conducted and were conducting a mass massacre of top lead- 
ers, lower-rank Communists, government oflScials, engineers, 
military men, artists, intellectuals, foreign Communists, trade 
unionists, and functionaries in collectives. The Bolshevik 
regime was burying its brains. People^ talked in whispers; none 
felt secure from spiteful denunciations ending in imprison- 
ment or worse; everybody suspected everybody of being a 
spy. Even fawning automatons were not safe. » 

But if I announced my "Kronstadt,” I would lose my con- 
tacts with the wonderful Russians in Spain and my chance of 
working with the Loyalists. By this time, the Spanish Com- 
munists had gained great strength in the Republican camp, 
and a critic of Soviet Russia would not have been welcome in 
it. I therefore limited myself to talking to Loyalist Prime Min- 
ister Negrin and a few of his close collaborators about the true 
horror of Russia and warning them against a dictatorship in 

While deploring Soviet domestic policy, I approved of 
Soviet foreign policy. Russian's help to the Loyalists was in 
sharp contrast with the stupid, scandalous pro-Franco be- 
havior of the democracies — ^"Non-Intervention” they called 
it. I realized that in the end the atrocities within Russia and 
the perversion of Bolshevism through nationalism would cor- 
rupt Soviet relations with the outside world. For the moment, 
however, the Moscow govemmenfs role in Spain mellowed 
my emotional, if not my intellectual, antagonism to it, and I 
hesitated to attack. 

The scales in which I weighed the pros and cons of Soviet- 
ism were precariously balanced. A feather would tip them 
against Russia. Now a ton was dropped on to the anti-Soviet 

Louis Fischer 


Even before Franco’s victory over the Spanish people in 
March, 1939, Loyalist oflBcials had been collecting proof of 
Soviet measures against the Russians who worked in Spain. 
From time to time, one or more of these self-sacrificing, self- 
effacing aides of the Loyalists would be recalled to the Soviet 
Union and disappear. Ultimately, the heads of the Loyalist 
government were convinced, on the basis of substantiated 
facts, that almost all the important military and civilian Soviet 
citizens who served so well in Spain were executed or exiled 
on their return home. • 

General Goriev, who directed the defense of Madrid, was 
executed. General Grishin, the first Soviet chief of staff in 
Spain, was arrested. Stashevsky, the Soviet trade representa- 
tive in Spain in 1937-38, an old Polish revolutionist, a valued 
economic adviser of Negrin, was banished. Marcel Rosenberg, 
first Soviet ambassador to Loyalist Spain, Gaikis, his counselor, 
and Antonov-Avseenko, the Soviet representative in Catalonia 
who in November, 1917, stormed the Czar s Winter Palace and 
took it for the Revolution, were executed. General Uritsky, in 
charge of Soviet arms shipments to the Loyalists, and Michael 
Koltsov, Pravda correspondent who reported on Spain direct 
to Stalin and Voroshilov, were likewise shot. This is only a 
partial list of those who have not been seen or heard of since 
they were in Spain. Perhaps they were simply caught in the 
big net of the big Stalin-Yezhov purge. Perhaps they knew too 
much about conditions abroad. 

I have been criticized for not announcing my “Kronstadt’* 
at this point or earlier. Maybe I should have. I had no doubts 
about what had happened and why, and I was even fairly 
certain that an improvement in Soviet policy was unlikely. 
But since it was possible, I waited and remained silent 

Then came the Soviet-Nazi Pact of August 23, 1939, which 
committed the Soviet government to the course it has pursued 
from that day to this. The pact produced my “Kronstadt.” The 
pact was an agreement not to gain time but to gain territory. 
In secret protocols, now published, it provided for a spheres- 


Louis Fischer 

of-influence division of the areas accessible to Soviet-Nazi 
aggression. Therewith commenced Russia’s planned aggression 
which gave her today’s creaking empire and made her man- 
kind’s worst problem. 

The Communists and their fellow-travelers had denounced 
anybody who predicted a Soviet-Nazi agreement; they said 
it was inconceivable. On the very eve of its signing, they 
heatedly refused to believe it. When it became ojfficial, they 
defended it They defended it because they automatically 
defend everything Moscow does. On all other grounds, the 
pact was indefensible. 

The Soviet-Nazi Pact was the gravestone of Bolshevik inter- 
nationalism and the cornerstone of Bolshevik imperialism. It 
was possible because Bolshevik Russia had become the ceme- 
tery of Bolsheviks. Czarist expansion was longitudinal and 
latitudinal. It conquered territory instead of concentrating on 
the improvement of the lot of the people. In this respect too, 
Stalin was now copying the crowned Romanovs. 

On the backs of the nationalized proletariat and the nation- 
alized peasantry, with the cowed, kowtowing bureaucracy 
and intelligentsia crying "Bravo,” Stalin has built a super- 
nationalistic, imperialistic, state-capitalistic, militaristic sys- 
tem in which he is, and his successor vdll be, the Supreme 
Slave Master. 

Why should, how can, anyone interested in the welfare of 
people and the peace and progress of humanity support such 
a system? Because there is rottenness in the democratic world? 
We can fight the rottenness. What can Soviet citizens do about 

But since many persons did not understand why I post- 
poned my "Kronstadt” so long after they had seen the darlmess 
in Russia, I am tolerant of those who are still in the pre- 
"Kronstadt” phase. The Pact was "Kronstadt” for me. Others 
did not ^eave the train” to stop at "Kronstadt” until Russia 
invaded Finland in December, 1939. Finland was their ideo- 
logical melting point. But a well-known British radical did 

Louis Fischer 


not strain at the Pact or at Finland, He persisted until the 
Nazi attack on Norway in April, 1940, when he forsook the 
Communist line of sabotaging the anti-Hitler war eflEort and 
enlisted in the defense of England. He had thought that the 
Soviet Union was Socialist and therefore could not sin. But 
countries which call themselves Socialist are as prone to sin 
as countries which call themselves Christian. 

The timing^s ^‘Kronstadt” depends on a variety of 
objective and temperamental factors. Some are so obsessed 
with the crimes of the capitalist world that they remain blind 
to the crimes and bankruptcy of Bolshevism. Not a few use 
the defects of the West to divert attention from the hideous 
horrors of Moscow. My own prescription is: Double Rejection, 
A free spirit, unfettered by economic bonds or intellectual 
bias, can turn his back on the evils of both worlds and strive, 
by improving his own, to create a condition of peace, pros- 
perity, and morality in which dictatorships on both sides of 
the Iron Curtain would suffocate and perish. 

This raises the decisive question: \^ere does each year’s 
new levy of disenchanted go from ^‘Kronstadt”? TEronstadt” 
is not a dead end. It should be a stop on the road to a better 
terminus than dictatorship. 

Among the ex-Communists and among those Soviet sup- 
porters who, like myself, were never Communists, there is a 
type that might be called the authoritarian by inner compul- 
sion. A changed outlook or bitter experience may wean him 
from Stalinism. But he still has the shortcomings which drove 
him into the Bolshevik camp in the first place. He abandons 
Communism intellectually, yet he needs an emotional substi- 
tute for it. Weak within himself, requiring security, a comfort- 
ing dogma, and a big battalion, he gravitates to a new pole of 
infallibility, absolutism and doctrinal certainty. He clings to 
something outwardly imited and strong. Often he deserts 
Communism because it is not secure enough, because it zig- 
zags and fliipflops and thus deprives him of the stability he 
craves. When he finds a new totalitarianism, he fights Com- 


Louis Fischer 

munism with Communist-like violence and intolerance. He is 
an anti-Communist "Communist/' 

Doriot, a French Communist leader, member of the Third 
InternationaFs ruling executive committee, became a Fascist 
and crusaded fiercely against Communism. Laval, former 
Communist, former French Premier, was later pro-Nazi and 
reactionary. Similarly, since the war, many Italian, Rumanian, 
Hungarian, and Polish Fascists and German I;^azis, many thou- 
sands of them, have joined the nationalistic, totalitarian Com- 
munist Party of their countries. Totalitarians of all feathers 
understand one another. 

The authoritarian by inner compulsion does not forsake 
Stalin for his antithesis Gandhi. When the Generalisjsimo 
ceases to command his complete devotion, he embraces the 
General. When Storm Troopers butcher millions of his people, 
he does not abjure terror; he takes up terror himself; his only 
reaction to dictatorship is the desire to be the dictator rather 
than the dictators victim. 

Dissatisfied, disillusioned commissar types are drawn from 
"Kronstadt’' toward new and apparently more heroic forms of 
regimentation, toward new and apparently less brutal abso- 
lutes, or toward a more successful totalitarianism. Their 
"Kronstadt” is a shift of loyalty, not a change of heart and 

A "Kronstadt” is creative and socially valuable only when it 
represents a complete rejection of the methods of dictatorship 
and a conversion to the ideas of democracy. 

No dictatorship is a democracy and none contains the seeds 
of liberty. This I did not understand in the years when I was 
pro-Soviet. I believed that a temporary suspension of freedom 
would enable the Soviet regime to make rapid economic strides 
and then restore the freedom. It has not happened. The Soviet 
dictatorship has been barren of groceries because it has been 
barren of liberties. There can be no material security or eco- 
nomic democracy without political democracy. The millions 
in Soviet concentration camps and prisons thirty years after 

Louis Fischer 225 

the Revolution mock every claim of political or economic 

Nor is there the slightest sign that the police state is wither- 
ing away. On the contrary, every purge alienates new groups 
and necessitates another purge, thus making the lawless purge 
a permanent weapon of the dictator against the people. 

There is no freedom in a dictatorship because there are no 
inalienable right^. The dictator has so much power, and the 
individual so little, that the dictator can take away any right 
which he gives. The right to work, for instance, may today 
mean the right to work in a factory for pay and tomorrow the 
grim necessity to work in a concentration camp for starvation 
rations. And the citizen has no redress, for the dictator is the 
legislator, the executive, and the judge. The hard-working, 
talented Soviet peoples deserve better and know better, for it 
is easy to love freedom; but they camaot help themselves, and 
each year the terror increases. 

My pro-Sovietism led me into the further error of thinking 
that a system founded on the principle of “the end justifies the 
means” could ever create a better world or a better human 

Immoral means produce immoral ends — and immoral per- 
sons — ^under Bolshevism and under capitalism. 

Ends like, money, promotion, and successes are in themselves 
means to an end which constantly retreats. For individuals, 
therefore, most of life consists of means. And any way of life 
which reduces the pleasure and purity in means for the sake 
of a supernatural or natural future transforms life into a cold, 
unclean, unhappy corridor. 

Dictatorship rests on a sea of blood, an ocean of tears, and 
a world of suffering — ^the results of its cruel means. How then 
can it bring joy or freedom or inner or outer peace? How can 
fear, force, lies, and misery make a better man? 

My years of pro-Sovietism have taught me that no one who 
loves people and peace should favor a dictatorship. The fact 
that a system of society proclaims liberty yet limits it is no 


Louis Fischer 

good reason for embracing a system which completely crushes 
liberty. It is a good reason for abolishing the numerous limita- 
tions on personal, political, and economic liberty in all democ- 
racies and enriching democracy with Gandhian morality, 
which consists, above all, in respect for means, man, and truth. 

.In retrospect I see that I turned to Soviet Russia because I 
thought it had the solution of the problem of power. Science 
places ever-growing power at the disposal of man and he does 
not know what to do with it. The twentieth century’s biggest 
problem is the control of personal, gK)up, and national power. 
My acceptance of Soviet Russia was, I suspect, a by-product 
of my protest against the power over hximan beings which 
accumulated wealth and property give to their owners, ha my 
youth I read Progress and Poverty by Henry George. I imbibed 
the trust-busting spirit of the Theodore Roosevelt Era and the 
liberalism and populism that were part of every poor Ameri- 
can’s heritage. Then Soviet Russia emerged, promising to break 
forever the power of landlords, trusts, big business exploiters, 
and private capital generally. 

I have not changed my attitude to the dangers of excessive 
power. But I now realize that Bolshevism is not the way out 
because it is itself the world s biggest agglomeration of power 
over man. I boil at the injustices perpetrated on the unfortu- 
nate residents of company towns in the coal regions of my 
native state of Pennsylvania, where the mining company owns 
the workers’ homes and runs the only stores. But all of the 
Soviet Union is one gigantic company town in which the gov- 
ernment controls all the jobs, owns all the homes, and runs all 
the stores, schools, newspapers, etc., and from which there is 
no escape, as there is for some from a Pennsylvania company 
town. Stalin’s Russia is condemned as a ^‘police state.” That is 
a fraction of the evil. The Kremlin holds its citizens in sub- 
jugation not only by poKce-and-prison power but also by the 
greater power inherent in the ownership and operation of 
^very economic enterprise in the nation. Capitalism’s trusts 
and cartels and monopolies are pygmies compared to the one 

Louis Fischer 


mammoth political-economic monopoly which is the Soviet 
State. There is no appeal from its might because there is no 
power in the Soviet Union which does not belong to the gov- 
ernment dictatorship. 

Russia, therefore, taught me that the transfer of property 
from private hands to government hands does not alone con- 
duce to freedom or improved living. If all property is trans- 
ferred to the gcjvernment, and if m the process the middle 
class, a decisive factor in modern industrial civilization, is 
ruined, nothing is gained; much, indeed, is lost. 

What the world needs is a balance of economic and political 
power so that no party, no class, no government, no assembly 
of private interests is omnipotent and beyond challenge. Soviet 
Russia lacks balance. This is the essence of dictatorship, and 
this explains the Soviet governments arbitrary acts abroad 
and at home in relation to workers, peasants, ofiScials, Com- 
munists, musicians, artists, etc. Russia cannot solve the prob- 
lem of power because it is the ugliest manifestation of the 

After ^‘Kronstadt,’^ the ex-friend of a dictatorship should 
work for a democracy in which power is so divided that it 
can never be monopolized even by a government with majority 
support nor, of course, by a private group. A wise leader exer- 
cises restraint in the accumulation of power as well as in its 

After “Kronstadt,” the ex-Communist or ex-apologist for 
Soviet Russia should enlist in a crusade for full liberty to dis- 
senters and to those of contrasting religions, races^ appear- 
ances, names, etc. The highest mark of culture is the abiKty 
to live in peace with persons who are different from ourselves. 
The alternatives are dullness and dictatorship. Moreover, the 
ex-Communist and ex-sympathizer of Russia should be tolerant 
of Communists and sympathizers. They too will awaken from 
their dreams. Every Communist is a potential anti-Communist 
and should be wooed. 

After “Kronstadt,” the former supporters of Soviet Russia 


Louis Fischer 

should support an internationalism which excludes national- 
ism. In theory, and perhaps in practice, some day, nationalism 
need not conflict with internationalism. But the myth of an 
isolated country as a citadel of security or of capitalism or of 
socialism, or as a paragon of virtue, does actually prevent the 
growth of internationalist sentiment. When the tongue 
preaches world government while the heart leaps to the mili- 
tary exploits and material successes of one^s^own nation, the 
tongue might as well be still. The racist, the isolationist, the 
hater of a foreign people, be it enen^, ex-enemy, or possible 
enemy, is not an internationalist and only a paper advocate of 
world government Ultimately, no nation can enjoy successes 
that are not shared. There is no real peace or happiness while 
your neighbor down the street or ten thousand miles away is 

After ‘'Kronstadt,^’ above all, the "Double Rejector’’ of the 
evil of dictatorship and the evil in democracy should mind 
the human being. All goals — ^national independence, interna- 
tionalism, economic and scientific progress, national security, 
the preservation of capitalism, the establishment of Socialism, 
etc., etc. — are nothing in the abstract They only have meaning 
in relation to the interests of living men, women, and children 
who are the means through which everything on earth is 
achieved. In one’s zeal for a cause, it is possible to forget them, 
or to suppose that they can wait or to imagine that they don’t 
mind. In one’s absorption in an ideal, it is possible to imagine 
that one generation can be sacrificed for the sake of its de- 
scendants. But sacrificing people may become a habit unto the 
second and third generation. I thought, in my Soviet phase, 
that I was serving humanity. But it is only since then that I 
have really discovered the human being. 

Stephen Spender 

BiOGRApmcAi, NOTE: Stephen Spender was born in 1909 of 
the well-known Liberal writer, Edward Harold Spender, He 
was educated partly in Switzerland and partly at University 
College, Oxford, At Oxford, together with Day Lewis and 
Auden, he began to write poetry. 

Caught up in the political movement of the thirties, he pub- 
lished Forward from Liberalism in 19S7 and, shortly aperward, 
joined the Communist Party for a brief period. 

In 1946 he studied the impact of Nazism on German intel- 
lectuals for the Political Intelligence Branch of the Foreign 

His first Poems were published in 193S; his book of literary 
criticism. The Destructive Element, in 1935; and European 
Witness in 1946, He is now assembling his Collected Poetry. 

I was a member of the British Communist Party for a few 
weeks during the winter of 1936-S7. My membership lapsed 
soon after I had joined. I was never invited to join the cell 
in Hammersmith, where I then lived, nor did I pay any dues 
after my initial payment. 

Shortly before I joined, I had published Forward from 
Liberalism, which was chosen by the Left Book Club as book 
of the month. I argued in this book that there was a flaw in 
the liberal conception of the freedom of the individual. Some- 
times liberals spoke and wrote as though they believed in the 


230 Stephen Spender 

unrestricted freedom of the individual to exploit other individ- 
uals; at other times, the freedom of all among equals, I argued 
that in the Nineteenth Century, during the period of expansion 
of British trade, liberals could reconcile the aim of free com- 
petition of the employers with that of reform for the workers, 
without the contradiction in their position becoming apparent. 
But in the 1930’s, in a postwar world of depression, tariffs 
and unemployment, where there were growing Fascist move- 
ments in Europe, liberals could not support unrestricted free- 
dom for both employers and workers. They must base their 
conception of freedom on social justice restricting exploitation. 
I suggested that liberals must support the workers, accept the 
necessity of fighting Fascism, and at the same time defend 
individual freedom of self-expression, by which I meant free 
speech and habeas corpus. 

The task of liberals was to attach individual freedom to the 
interests opposed to Fascism; and at the same time face the 
methods which might be necessary to achieve power. In short, 
they must put the cause of freedom on the side of social jus- 
tice. They must transplant individual freedom from the capi- 
talist to the workers^ interest. 

My book was much discussed. Amongst those who wrote to 
me was Mr. Harry PoUitt. He invited me to come and see him. 
So I went one afternoon to the dingy oflSces of the Communist 
Party near the Charing Cross Road. Mr. PoUitt had a warm, 
reassuring, frank manner. He was smaU, with a ruddy com- 
plexion and brown eyes tmder raised thick eyebrows which 
raninded me of George Robeys. He grasped my hand and 
said at once: “I was interested in your book. What struck me 
about it was the difference between your approach to Com- 
munism and mine. Yours is purely intellectual. I became a 
Communist because I witnessed in my own home the crimes 
of capitalism. I had to see my mother go out and work in a 
mill, and be kiUed by the conditions in which she worked.'^ 

Another difference between us, he said, was that I showed 


Stephen Spender 

no hatred. He believed that hatred of capitalism was the emo- 
tional driving force of the working-class movement 

He objected to my criticizing in my book the Moscow trials 
of Bukharin and the others. I said that I wasn't convinced that 
the accused were guilty of anything except opposing Stalin. 
He disagreed vehemently and seemed to think them lucky .to 
have had any trial. Then he pointed out that although we 
might disagree ^about the Moscow trials, nevertheless we 
agreed on action which the Communists were taking in sup- 
port of the Spanish Republic. He had a suggestion to make. 
This was that we should agree to disagree, but that neverthe- 
less I should join the Communists in order to support them 
over* Spain. I could write an article in the Daily Worker 
criticizing the Communists at the same time as I joined the 

I accepted this offer. I received a Party card, and my article 
appeared. The article infuriated the Communists in Scotland 
and the North of England and my membership in the Party 
was quickly forgotten. 

Although PoUitt had been right in observing that my reasons 
for becoming a Communist were not those of a worker, never- 
theless a whole chain of events had led to my attempt to com- 
promise with the Party. 

These go back to my childhood. What had impressed me 
most in the gospels was that all men are equals in the eyes of 
God, and that the riches of the few are an injustice to the 
many. My sense of the equality of men was based not so much 
on an awareness of the masses as on loneliness. I can remem- 
ber lying awake at night thinking of this human condition in 
which everyone living, without the asking, is thrust upon the 
earth, where he is enclosed within himself, a stranger to the 
rest of humanity, needing love and facing his own death. 
Since to be bom is to be a Robinson Cmsoe cast up by ele- 
mental powers upon an island, how unjust it seems that all 
men are not free to share what nature offers here; that there 
should be men and women who are not permitted to explom 

232 Stephen Spender 

the world into which they are bom, but who are throughout 
their lives sealed into leaden slums as into living tombs. It 
seemed to me — as it still seems — ^that the unique condition of 
each person within life outweighs the considerations which 
justify class and privilege. 

However, I did not associate these ideas with being a revo- 
lutionary. They were Christian and really to act according to 
them I would have had to give aU I had to the poor and live 
as simply as a peasant in India or China. The Communists 
were to me terrible people like cannibals or wolves, who wanted 
to destroy all the towns of the world and rampage among the 
mins. I had absorbed the opinions of my family and their 
friends who regarded revolutions as disasters like earthquakes. 
The Socialists were only a little less dangerous than the Com- 
munists. I learned to exclude certain points of view by think- 
ing of people who held them as mad or subhuman. 

When I was sixteen, at the London day school to which 
I went, I came in contact with a master and one or two boys 
who were Socialists. The master had been in the war, belonged 
to the 1917 Club, and read the Daily Herald, According to 
him. Socialism was not a reign of terror and unreason. It meant 
nationalizing industries so that they produced goods and 
wealth which belonged to all the people in a country, instead 
of to a few, removing the competitive system based on profit 
which led to international rivalry in trade and hence to war, 
and giving all children of aU classes equal opportunity. This 
corresponded to my primitive idea of social justice. A boy with 
whom I was friendly at school was Maurice Comforth, who 
read the plays of Bernard Shaw and wrote plays which seemed 
to me quite as good as Shawls. Comforth had the kind of mind 
which can explain things by arranging them into a system of 
ideas. He rescued me from Anglo-Catholicism only to plunge 
me into Buddhism. He was a vegetarian, and he went for 
walks of thirty or forty miles a day in Metroland at week ends. 
He was tousle-headed and had a tousle-haired dog. He domi- 


Stephen Spender 

nated school debates and covered reams of paper with his 
plays, poems and letters. 

To Cornforth and me Socialism was only one of several in- 
terests. Others were modern post-impressionist painting, the 
theater, the ballet and poetry. In fact, Sociahsm was a variety 
of modernist behavior which went with red ties and Shaws 
beard. Thus when I was at Oxford I easily accepted the view 
held there by m^pst of my friends, that art had nothing to do 
with politics. I subtracted politics from my other ‘advanced” 
views and was left with art for art's sake. The years 1928, 

1929, and even 1930 today seem remote and peaceful, and at 
Oxford it was possible to forget human injustices or at least 
to think that they were not the business of “the poet.” I re- 
mained a Socialist in the way in which certain people who 
never go to church remain Catholics. A kind of orthodoxy has 
frozen in their minds. They know that it is there and that it 
may one day melt and engulf them in a flooding struggle, but, 
for the time being, it seems to bear little relation to their 

After I had left Oxford I went to live in Germany, There 
the sense of humanity as social struggle re-awakened in me. 
Nearly every young German I met was poor, living from 
hand to mouth on little money. The barriers between classes 
had broken down. All classes were conscious of a fate of defeat 
and inflation and recovery in which all after the War had been 
involved. Much music, painting and literature of the Weimar 
Republic expressed either revolutionary spirit or pity for the 
poor. The eyes of the victims of the postwar world might be 
said to stare through German expressionist art. 

I was a foreigner and my first reaction to this misery was 
an intense pity for the victims of the crisis which began in 

1930. But although I felt deeply moved by the unemployed 
whose eyes stared from the edges of pavements, I did not, at 
first, feel that I could do more than pity them. This was partly 
because, as a foreigner, I felt outside Germany. Only when 
the crisis spread to Great Britain and other countries did I 

234 Stephen Spender 

begin to realize that it was a disease of capitalism throughout 
the world. Gradually I became convinced that the only cure 
for unemployment, other than war, was an international so- 
ciety in which the resources of the world were exploited in 
the interests of all the people of the world. 

A friend, whom Isherwood in his autobiographical sketch 
Lions and Shadows calls Chalmers, came to Berlin and one 
day Christopher invited me to meet him. Ch^mers, who had 
recently joined the Communist Party, had been on an Intourist 
tour of Russia, lasting a few days, anfl was visiting Berlin on 
his return from Moscow. He was a small, dark young man with 
a keen miniature-like beauty. He looked at objects steadily 
with the concentration of a bird-watcher, often fixing «One 
intently with his eyes while he was talking or listening. He 
gave the impression of combining humor with high moral 
seriousness. When I asked him what the Russian landscape 
was like, he stared in front of him and said with an effect of 
mysticism mixed with irony: 'The most beautiful in the world.’" 
In another age he would probably have been a country parson 
who discovered poetic inspiration in paradoxes of orthodoxy 
symbolized by flowers concealed amongst the hedgerows of 
an English lane. 

One afternoon Chalmers and I went for a walk in Berlin. 
It was not long before we discussed Communism. Chalmers 
had a simple and clear point of view. Unemployment, war and 
nearly all the evils of the time, including sexual jealousy and 
the problems of writers, were due to the capitalist system. The 
cure was to abolish capitalism and establish Communism. 
Within society, one must cooperate with the class-conscious 
workers, witiiin oneself one must make "an act of the will.” 
Chahners agreed that there were people within the present 
form of society who did not hke unemployment and war. 
They might even sincerely renounce their own interests in the 
effort to remove such evfls. But as long as they accepted the 
context of bourgeois society, their efforts were vain. For 
capitalism inevitably meant competition between classes and 


Stephen Spender 

nations. To work against the direction of such a system whilst 
accepting it, was at most to produce a little backwater of one’s 
own clear conscience within a rushing stream. The only action 
one could take ^bn the side of history” was to change the 
direction of the stream altogether. 

To do this was a prodigious task, and in doing it one did 
not have to consider, except from the point of view of their 
effectiveness, the means which were used nor the fate of 
individuals. History did not care about those who were not 
on its side. "Histor/* to^^halmers was, of course, the workers’ 
revolution, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the estab- 
lishment of Communism, which would abolish all the evils 
of the present and finally establish a free world. Chalmers had 
a sincere vision of that world, and he decidedly wished for 
the happiness of mankind. But he was impervious to the 
injustices and cruelties which "liistory” produced on its way. 
I think it is not unjust to say that these even rather appealed 
to his ironic literary sensibility. He had made up his mind on 
a course of revolutionary action, and having done so, he 
viewed the concrete results of that action as it were from a 
distance. His mind was so entirely fixed on the future that 
what happened in the present was, I believe, a matter of as 
complete indifference to him, as the fate of the people who 
perished in the Lisbon earthquake two hundred years ago. 
He lived in the future, and for him the present belonged 
to a grim pre-revolutionary past. What Chalmers demanded 
of himself and of others who put themselves "on the side of 
history” was that they should identify all their thoughts and 
actions with the processes which would produce the classless 
society. He wished to submit the present absolutely to a course 
of action dictated by the future. 

I felt very unsinre of myself with Chalmers as I confessed 
to my dislike of violence, my attachment to freedom of self- 
expression, my wish nevertheless for revolutionary changes 
which would produce a socially just international society with- 
out destroying the liberty of the individual. He took his pipe 


Stephen Spender 

out of his mouth and said with friendly terseness: "Gandhi.” 

I had spoken of the League of Nations. Chalmers explained 
how idealism of the kind embodied in the League could do 
nothing to prevent war. The League was a society of imperi- 
alist powers determined to use it as a principle for protecting, 
if mot extending, their own sovereignties. The nations which 
used the League were themselves the instruments of the arma- 
ments interests. The League was in effect an ^Uiance directed 
against Russia. "Under the present system all talk about dis- 
armament is nonsense.” • 

Part of our discussion was about the novel. Chalmers, like 
a great many Communist writers, found that being a Com- 
munist cut the ground of his experience from under his «feet, 
leaving him only with a theory of revolution. He was one of 
the bourgeoisie, envisaged in the "Communist Manifesto,” 
who had "gone over” to the proletariat. Politically, this is a 
tenable position (most of the Russian revolutionary leaders 
were bourgeois), but for the creative artist it it difiBcult. 
His sensibffity, which is decided for him in his childhood, 
is bourgeois. He can scarcely hope to acquire by an act 
of political will a working-class mentality. Even if he did 
do so, he would be confronted with the difiSculty that, ac- 
tually, the working class is in the main, and except for a 
few class-conscious workers, "until after the Revolution,” more 
bourgeois than the bourgeoisie. The workers do not care for 
the ^Troletarian novel.” To write a revolutionary novel attack- 
ing capitalism also presents an artistic problem; political ac- 
tivists, thinking only of political necessity, are more concerned 
with activist propaganda than with art based on experience 
and observation, which inevitably must include discouraging 
as well as revolutionary features. Chalmers admitted these 
difficulties freely. And theorizing, he said: "I do not think 
the novel with a working-class hero and wicked capitalists is 
the best kind of Communist novel. A better kind might well 
be one in which the capitalist characters were sympathetic 
people of good will, and the Communists embittered and 


Stephen Spender 

unsympathetic. But the novel would make the point that the 
imsympathetic Communists are right and the middle-class 
characters of good will wrong. Of course I admit that the 
Party would not welcome a book of this kind." Chalmers’ 
idea for a novel with unsympathetic Communists who justify 
the cause of historic development against well-meaniag but 
historically wrong capitalists, is a parable illustrating very 
exactly the position of the intellectual Communist He puts 
his faith in an automatism of history which even if it is 
achieved by bad men byjbad means wfll eventually make men 
good, just as the system of capitalism automatically turns all 
good aims into channels of war and destruction. To state the 
Coininunist faith so truthfully is not popular among the Com- 
munists. Mr. Harry Pollitt had told me that the best revolu- 
tionary novel, in his opinion, was Jack London’s The Iron Heel, 

Some years after this conversation, in 1987, 1 asked Chalmers 
what he thought about the latest series of Russian trials, in- 
volving Bukharin, Radek and others. He hesitated a moment, 
looked away at some object in the distance, blinked, and then 
said: “There are so many of these trials that I have given up 
thinking about them long ago." He had decided. He accepted 
present methods because his hope was fixed in the future, 
and that was that 

He combined a belief in the inexorable Marxist develop- 
ment of history with mystical confidence in the workers. He 
believed that the workers represented the future, and that 
given the opportunity, they would flower into a better civiliza- 
tion. Doubtless, if he ever had misgivings about Communist 
methods, he reflected that, in a workers’ world, the classless 
proletarian society would grow in the soil ploughed over by 
the methods of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat 

It is obvious that there were elements of mysticism in this 
faith. Indeed, I think that this is an attraction of Communism 
for the intellectual. To believe in political action and economic 
forces which will release new energies in the world is a 
release of energy in oneself. One ceases to be inhibited by 

238 Stephen Spender 

pity for the victims of revolution. Indeed one can regard pity 
as a projection of ones own revolutionary wish to evade the 
issue of revolution. One can retain one's faith in the ultimate 
goals of humanity and at the same time ignore the thousands 
of people in prison camps, the tens of thousands of slave work* 
ers. Do these exist? Whether or not they do, it is bourgeois 
propaganda to maintain so. Therefore one must deny that there 
are any slave camps in Russia. These lives have become ab- 
stractions in an argument in which the present is the struggle, 
and the future is Communism — ^a world ^vhere everyone will, 
eventually, be free. If one admits to oneself the existence of the 
prison camps, one can view them as inevitable sacrifices 
demanded by the good cause. It is ‘humanitarian' weakness 
to think too much about the victims. The point is to fix one's 
eyes on the goal, and then one is freed from the horror and 
anxiety — quite useless in any case — ^which inhibit the energies 
of the liberal mind. (Nevertheless, I was to learn that the 
secret of energy does not lie in shutting one's eyes. ) 

Moreover, if Communism produces victims, capitalism pro- 
duces far more. What are the millions of imemployed in peace- 
time, the millions killed in wars, but the victims of capitalist 
competition? Capitalism is a system based on victimization, 
in which the number of victims increases all the time. Com- 
munism is a system in which, theoretically — ^when all are Com- 
munists in a classless society — ^there will be no victims. Its 
victims today are the victims not of Commxmism but of revo- 
lution. When the revolution has succeeded and when the 
Dictatorship of the Proletariat has ‘‘withered away," there 
will be a decreasing number of victims. For Communism 
does not need exploited classes of people. It needs only co- 
operation of aU mai to make a better world. During the early 
years of the 1930's I used to argue with myself in this way. 
My arguments were re-enforced by feelings of guilt and the 
suspicion that the side of me which pitied the victims of revolu- 
tion secretly supported the ills of capitalism from which I 
myself benefited 


Stephen Spender 

The seeds which Chahners had planted in my mind were 
his condemnation of the League of Nations and the criticism 
he had implied in saying that I was a follower of Gandhi. 

He left me to reflect during the coming months that almost 
all public actions and many private and personal ones were 
of two kinds: those for, and those against the Revolution. 
Subjective motives made no difference to the objective tend- 
ency of actions. Thus someone who works among the poor 
and sincerely wishes their lot to be bettered would be ob- 
jectively against the woipkers if he made the people to whom 
he did good contented with capitalist society. In fact, the 
poor parson and the East End social worker are the agents 
of tiijLe rich. 

A country, I saw now, might be governed by leaders genu- 
inely believing themselves to be Socialists, yet unwilling to 
employ the ruthless methods of revolution. These Socialists 
might find themselves in a position where their Sociahsm was 
threatened by capitalists prepared even to destroy the credit 
of the country abroad, in the hope that by doing so they could 
destroy at the same time the credit of the Socialist government. 
In such a situation, the Socialist government would either have 
to fulfill the requirements of the capitalists or adopt ruthless 
methods to destroy capitalism. 

Events of the 1930"s showed that when faced by this choice, 
the Social Democrats, Braun and Severing in Prussia, Ramsay 
MacDonald in Britain, refused the challenge of revolution. 
They went over to the other side or resigned from power. 

I submitted my own personahty to the same searching 
analysis as I applied to the official Sociahsts. What did I 
really want? Did I merely enjoy as a luxury of my position 
in society a self-flattering pretense that I wished others to be 
as fortunate as I? Was I prepared to accept a Socialist world 
— on the condition that I suddenly woke up one day to find 
that it painlessly had happened? Or was I prepared to support 
the means which would accomplish this end? Could I accept 
a transitional state of society which would be imcomfortable 

240 Stephen Spender 

indeed, worse even perhaps than capitalism, and for a long, 
hard time very unlik e the goal which Socialists desired? And 
if I could not accept the means which would bring Socialism 
about, were my views anything but a self-deluded, self-pity- 
ing, self-justifying dream? Socialism today was not the World 
Federation of Socialist States. It was the means which would 
accomplish this end, however unpleasant these might be. 

When I asked myself these questions, I had to admit that 
what I really wanted was that others should live as I did, not 
that I should ‘'join the workers”: a pr<ospect which discomfited 
me. I could scarcely endure the thought of the loss of that 
independence which I owed to my position in bourgeois so- 
ciety. By a great effort of intellectual imagination I att^ed 
a state of mind where I could say to myself that I would sup- 
port the Revolution even if it meant die loss of my own social 
independence, just as I would accept the same losses in the 
event of being called up in a war. Yet when I had attained this 
standpoint, I was still confronted with prospects which horri- 
fied me and which seemed to have nothing to do with my own 
self-interest. I could not accept that it was necessary to deny to 
others the freedom to say what they believed to be true, if 
this happened to be opposed to the somewhat arbitrary bound- 
aries to freedom laid down by the Proletarian Dictatorship. I 
could not believe that it was politically reactionary to believe 
in God or to hold views about nature or humanity which were 
not "scientific” in the Marxist sense; which, as it seemed to 
me, bases a scientific method on denying the scientific spirit of 
free inquiry. 

For Ae intellectual of good will. Communism is a struggle 
of conscience. To understand this, explains many things. 
Amongst others, that Communists, who act in ways which may 
seem to the non-Communist unscrupulous, may nevertheless 
be perfectly sincere. Such Communists are like ships doubly 
anchored fore and aft, amid crosscurrents which swing all 
other craft. The two anchors are: the fixed vision of the evils 
done by capitalism, and the equally fixed vision of the class- 


Stephen Spender 

less society of the future. Crosstides disturbing liberal con- 
sciences are scruples about the methods necessary to achieve 
the ends of Communism and awareness of events such as the 
sufEering of thousands of people who do not happen to be 

This doubly secured Communist conscience also explains 
the penitential, confessional attitude which non-Communists 
may sometimes show towards orthodox Communists with their 
consciences anchored — ^if not petrified — ^in historic materialism. 
There is something Overpowering about the fixed conscience. 
There is a certain compulsion in the situation of the Com- 
munist with his faith reproving the liberal whose conscience 
swings from example to example, misgiving to misgiving, sup- 
porting here the freedom of some writer outside &e Writers’ 
Syndicate, some socially-conscienceless surrealist perhaps, here 
a Catholic priest, here a liberal professor in jail. What power 
there is in a conscience which reproaches us not only for vices 
and weaknesses but also for virtues, such as pity for the op- 
pressed, if they happen to be the wrong oppressed, or love 
for a friend, if he is not a good Party member! A conscience 
which tells us that by taking up a certain political position 
today we can attain a massive, granite-like superiority over our 
own whole past, without being humble or simple or guilty, but 
simply by virtue of converting the whole of our personahty 
into raw material for the use of the Party machine! How easy 
to afiBrm that liberal scruples, well-meaning though they may 
be, ignore the ultimate social good of all; to argue that they 
are really little outposts of the defense of the bourgeoisie, and 
that the man of good will may be defending the forces which 
have produced the worst calamities of the modem world. 

I have aheady mentioned the almost mystical faith in the 
workers as a class who will supersede the bourgeoisie, which 
undoubtedly influenced Chalmers. The concept of “The Work- 
ers” also affects the stmggle of conscience of the intellectual 
Communist or fellow-traveler. For however great may be his 
belief in intellectual freedom, he may well ask himself: “Why 


Stephen Spender 

should the workers care about my freedom?** What the mil- 
lions of miners and industrial workers and peasants and 
colonial people want is not freedom to develop their in- 
dividuality, but peace and bread and decent living conditions. 
If the sacrifice of intellectual freedom of a few thousand 
people is the price which must be paid for the bread of the 
millions, then perhaps one should sacrifice freedom. What 
value does the individuality of a young writer^sitting at a table 
in the Cafe de Flore and talking about existentialism have to 
an Indian peasant or a Chinese coolie? 

Although the intellectuals, as Harry PoUitt had pointed out 
to me, were not the workers, the debate, quite early, ceased to 
be one in which they played a purely theoretical role. Their 
own interests were vitally affected by Fascism. The victory 
of Hitler in 1933 was the defeat of intellectual liberty in Ger- 
many and a threat to freedom everywhere. It made the Jews 
and the intellectuals political forces, by the mere fact of their 
being Jews and intellectuals. Liberty of racial minorities, of 
the scientific workers to develop conclusions without having to 
consider political attitudes, of the poet and the painter to 
observe and create his most intimate experience, was threat- 
ened. At this time I saw Russian films such as Earthy Potemkin, 
The Mother, Turksib, Ten Days That Shook the World, The 
Way into Life, which seemed to rank amongst the most exciting 
creative works of art of the twentieth century. I read boofe 
and articles by Maurice Hindus, Louis Fischer and others, 
which emphasized the great social progress made in the Soviet 
Union. Criticism which I read of Russia, and at first believed, 
often was later revealed to be anti-Soviet propaganda. The 
publication of the Soviet Constitution seemed to extend hope 
of an era of greater freedom m Russia. 

Today, when I write these lines, they have an ironic over- 
tone, because the Stalinists now present the same threat to 
intellectual liberty as did the followers of Hitler in 1933. But 
at the time of which I am writing this was not obvious. Until 
the murder of Kirov it seemed probable that Russia was on 


Stephen Spender 

the verge of attaining an increased intellectual liberty. Exciting 
experiments in the theater, the cinema and music were taking 
place. Although the visitors to Russia through Intourist schemes 
were guided and shepherded, Russia was not sealed off from 
the rest of the world. The fanatical propaganda directed by 
counter-revolutionaries on the whole helped Russia very much, 
by producing a dense fog of prejudice in which it became im- 
possible for a detached observer to accept what was said 
against Russia. (In parenthesis, I suggest that anti-Communist 
propaganda has proved tjjie most reliable and best propaganda, 
working in the long run in favor of Stalin, since the Revolu- 

Soothe Jews and intellectuals, the “clercs’^ whose intellectual 
training detached them from sectarian passions, were forced 
to look for allies. Disappointed by the leaders of the democ- 
racies, they turned to the Workers^ Movement. They weighed 
the evils of mass unemployment. Fascism and war against the 
evils of Communism, and hoped that Communism at least 
offered an end to these things. Even a liberal like E. M, Forster 
wrote at this time that Communism was the only political 
creed which offered hope for the future, although he added 
that he himself would not be a Communist. Soon the intellec- 
tual life of the 1930*s turned into a debate about Ends and 

From da;^ to day, of course, the individuals involved in this 
agonizing debate iid not see it in such terms. They felt shaken 
out of a sense of security, by the slump of the 1930’s. Their 
assumption that they were living in a world where intolerance 
was decreasing was shattered by the triumph of Hitlerism. 
They were moved to pity and fury by the persecution of the 

The climax of the 1930 s was undoubtedly the Spanish Civil 
War. In Spain itself, among Spaniards, the issues of the war 
may well appear more complex than they did to those outside 
Spain. There may be some truth in the argument of Arthur 
Bryant that the Spaniards on either side hated the inter- 
ventionists who rushed in to help them, even more than they 

244 Stephen Spender 

hated their Spanish opponents. Nevertheless, for the rest of 
the world Spain became a theater where the drama of the 
struggle of Fascism and anti-Fascism was enacted. The inter- 
vention of Mussolini and Hitler, followed by that of Russia, 
and then by the enrollment of the International Brigade, made 
the Spanish War, for the time being, the center of Ae struggle 
for the soul of Europe. Spanish generals had revolted against 
a government elected by the Spanish people. When the rebels 
could not consolidate their rebellion, and outside forces inter- 
vened, the resistance of the Republic became the cause of 
democracy, and that of the rebels the cause of Fascism. What- 
ever a great many Spaniards on both sides may have been 
fighting for, this was the issue being fought out by iStaly, 
Germany, Russia and the International Brigade on Spanish 

The European Fascist versus anti-Fascist struggle was 
dramatized in Spain as in a theater. The peculiar Spanish 
passion, idealism and violence of temperament, and even the 
Spanish landscape, colored the struggle and gave it intensity 
and a kind of poetic purity which it scarcely had before or 
afterward. Above all, this was a war in which the individual, 
with his passion and his comparative independence of mechan- 
ical methods, stiU counted. It was in part an anarchist's war, 
a poet's war. At least five of the best young English writers 
gave their lives as did the poets of other countries. This drew 
file intellectuals still deeper into the struggle. After the fall of 
the Republic the struggle of Fascism against democracy be- 
came one in which armies and machines and bureaucracies 
counted more than individuals. 

Quite early in the Spanish War I traveled to Gibraltar, Oran 
and Tangier. Here I was amazed by the fervor of the common 
people who crowded to the meetings in support of the Spanish 
Republic. I have never seen any meeting to compare with one 
I attended at Tangier. Several hundred of the poorest people, 
amongst them the crippled and blind, listened with strained 
passionate faces to the speakers who defended the cause of 


Stephen Spender 

the Republic. There was a devoutness, a sense of hope, which 
made me think of the crowds described in the New Testa- 

Everywhere in these places where I came in touch with 
Communist groups, I was impressed by their confidence and 
their decency. In Oran, amidst the blatancy, the squalor, the 
drunkenness of the hfe of the port, the group of Communists 
who met at a little cafe where they had their headquarters 
seemed to belong to another world. 

In contrast to the "favorable impression which I gained of 
the Communists, I had a bad one of the officials and business- 
men who represented the interests of the democratic countries. 
Nearly all those I met seemed to support Franco. I could give 
many examples. The most comprehensive is from Tangier. 
Tangier was governed by an international commission con- 
sisting of the ministers of several powers, Britain, Italy, Spain, 
Belgium and France. The Spanish Minister, Prieto del Rio, 
who represented the Spanish Republic, was isolated. When 
I took a taxi and asked the driver to take me to the Spanish 
Ministry, he, following an automatic procedure, drove me to 
the Central Post Office, General Franco’s headquarters. At the 
residence of the British Minister, the guests at a cocktail party 
discussed how it could have happened that poor old Prieto, 
who was a good fellow, should have chosen the wrong side; 
this side being the legal government of his country, recog- 
nized by other governments. When I finally did visit Prieto 
del Rio, I found him with two members of his staff, cut off 
from the official life of Tangier, of whose government he was 
a member. 

In Gibraltar a retired British official put the situation very 
neatly, with an irony which he by no means intended. ‘What 
the people at home don’t realize,” he said, ‘is that the Re- 
publicans aren’t our kind of democrats. Why, if you go out 
into the streets here and ask the first ten Spanish workers you 
meet which side they support, they wfll aU say the Republic. 
It isn’t the British conception of democracy at aU. It’s what 

246 Stephen Spender 

ninety per cent of the people want.” The British oflBcials in 
Gibraltar did not have connections with the Spanish people 
who wanted the RepubHc. They knew only the Spaniards who 
took part in the Calpe fox hunt From these they learned 
stories of atrocities committed by the Republicans. They 
denied all knowledge of the savagery of the other side. 

After going to Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia on a visit 
which followed this first one, I took part at tpme in the agita- 
tion on behalf of the Spanish Republic. I made speeches and 
served on committees. On one occasion, with some other 
writers, I walked down Oxford Street and Regent Street 
carrying sandwich boards which bore Republic slogans. 

These were the days of the Popular Front. The emfbtion 
which gave life to this movement was a widespread revival 
of liberal feeling, yet there was no political party except the 
Communist to which this feeling could attach itself. The 
British Labor Party still had not recovered from the betrayal 
of Ramsay MacDonald. Accordingly, this resurgent liberalism 
in its anti-Fascist form was exploited by the Communists. 

Amongst intellectuals and writers, men like Victor Gollancz, 
John Strachey, George Orwell, Arthur Koestler, E. M. Forster, 
were prepared to go as far as the Communists in their opposi- 
tion to Fascism, their defense of freedom and social justice. 
Many people who were not Communists gave their energies 
to supporting the Spanish Republic, which they beKeved to be 
the cause of democracy. 

If the Communists had entered into the Popular Front with 
the same good faith as the Socialists and Liberals, a demo- 
cratic movement would have extended from the extreme Left 
to the Liberal Center, which would have had the fervor, 
generosity and imagination of the liberal revolutions of 1848. 
But the fatality of the Communists was to think only of form- 
ing united fronts in order then to seize control of them from 
within. The diversity of positive energies of many parties was 
thus inhibited by that party which most loudly and persistently 
proclaimed its desire for unity. 


Stephen Spender 

The slump of the 19S0’s, the catastrophe of the Weimar 
Republic, the fall of Socialist Vienna, all of them events which 
I witnessed more or less from the outside, had forced me to 
accept a theoretically Communist position. In poems, and in 
Forward from Liberalism, I had stated Communism as an 
intellectual and emotional necessity. PoUitt’s appeal to me to 
help in Spain pushed me momentarily over into the Com- 
munist Party. Nevertheless, it was Spain which involved me 
in my first practical experience of working politically Avith 
other people. This actiqp which had first made me a Party 
member also took me beyond and outside the Party, For I soon 
began to realize that even if the directing and organizing 
forc§ behind the support for the Spanish Republic was Com- 
munist, the real energy of the Popular Front was provided 
by those who had a passion for liberal values. Even the Com- 
munists realized that what made Spain an action and a symbol 
in this century as important as 1848 in the last, was the very 
fact that the Republic was not Communist. Indeed, the Com- 
munists while trying to exploit the situation there were the 
very first to declare this and to deny indignantly that the 
Republic was Communist: but they did so because they 
thought that to do so was good propaganda, while at the 
same time in their actions they were doing their best to belie 
their propaganda and to gain control in Spain itself, and in 
the organizations which brought aid to Spain from abroad. The 
liberals, the men of good will, even while they supported the 
Popular Front, were forced by their Communist allies into a 
struggle of conscience which caused a deep division amongst 
the supporters of the Republic. For the Communists, the 
Spanish War was a phase in their struggle for power. Being 
single-minded and fanatical, they were the driving force in 
the Popular Front, especially in Spain. Even so, they were 
also the force which held back all the other forces, forces 
ultimately more vital than themselves, because more complex 
and caring more for freedom and variety of expression. Almost 
the whole literature of the Spanish War depicts the energy 

248 Stephen Spender 

of a reviving liberalism rather than the Communist orthodoxy 
which produced an increasingly deadening effect on all dis- 
cussion of ideas, all witnessing of the complexity of events. 
The best books of the War — ^those by Malraux, Hemingway, 
Koestler and Orwell — describe the Spanish tragedy from the 
liberal point of view, and they bear witness against the Com- 

During my second visit to Spain, I saw how the Communists 
had gained complete control of the International Brigade. It 
was recruited on the merits of the Popt^lar Front of the Re- 
public. The concentration into Communist hands of all the 
mixed democratic elements which made up the Brigade was, 
on a small scale, the model of the Communist method in Spain. 
Within the Republican Army this policy was to call upon the 
parties to form one army in which all the formations of the 
political groups were merged, and then, having taken the lead 
in this way, gain control of the Army. 

In the International Brigade personal tragedies arose from 
the domination of the Communists. One of these comes to my 
mind. When I visited the front near Madrid I met an English 

Public School boy, L , aged eighteen. L told me that 

he had come to Spain in the belief that the Brigade was as 
liberal as the Republic itself. He had lost faith in the Repub- 
lican cause on finding that the Brigade was dominated by the 
Communists, with whom he had no sympathy. When I ques- 
tioned him it was obvious that he had never thought about 
Communism before he came to Spain. I asked him whether I 
could attempt to obtain his recall from Spain. He said no; 
and, pointing to the crest of the hill above the valley where 
we were standing, said: "The rest of my life is to walk every 
morning up here until one day I am killed.” He was killed 
six weeks later. 

When I retxmied to England, I wrote an article, which was 
published in the New Statesman, protesting against the propa- 
ganda which enrolled young men in the International Brigade 
without it being explained to them that this was a Communist- 


Stephen Spender 

controlled organization. This article did not please the Com- 
munists. A few weeks later, in Valencia, I met the correspond- 
ent of a Communist newspaper. He said that he had seen my 
article and that what I had written about Spain was true. He 
pointed out, though, that the important thing was to write that 
which would best serve the ends of winning the war and of 
Communism. He argued very amiably and with considerable 
charm, showing that kind of indifference to the misfortunes 
of the victims of a righteous cause which is even rather seduc- 
tive in its ease. ^ 

Just as the pattern of Communist behavior in the Brigade 
was followed by the Communists within the Republic, so was 
the p^ftern of propaganda. Thus, there was an atrocity propa- 
ganda which attributed all murders to the Francoists and 
depicted Republicans as angels, denouncing as "Fascists’" those 
who suggested that some atrocities had been committed by 
the Republicans. This picture of the Republic was repudiated 
in the novels of Malraux and Hemingway, the two outstanding 
books of the Spanish War. Another example of the crude 
propaganda was the use of the murder of Lorca. The fact that 
Lorca was not a Communist, but a Catholic who in fact fled 
to Franco territory at the beginning of the War, made his 
assassination by Fascists the more useful to the Communists. 
The Communists hate live heretics; but dead ones, so long as 
the Communists have not killed them themselves, can serve a 
useful purpose. Retrospectively, their heresies may be used to 
show how liberal the Communists really are and how illiberal 
their opponents. Thus, to say that Lorca was a Catholic, a con- 
servative, even a reactionary did not displease them, since 
Franco was responsible for the murder. They would even get 
indignant if Lorca was spoken of as a Red. \^at was inexcus- 
able, from their point of view, was to suggest that there was 
something unexplained, perhaps accidental, about the circum- 
stances of his death. I noticed when I was in Spain that most 
of the Spanish poets felt a certain shame about the propaganda 
that had been made from Lorca’s death. 

250 Stephen Spender 

More sinister, though, than the propaganda of heroics, was 
that of slanderous attack against groups within the Republic 
who were unfriendly to Communism. The liquidation of the 
Trotskyite organization, the POUM, leaps and the vilification 
of all its members as Fascists, was a stain on the Republic in 
the eyes of all who were not Communists. 

After the war, a Spanish corps commander told me that he 
considered the Communist propaganda to have done the Re- 
publican cause more harm than good. *We had a good enough 
cause to have been able to affond ter tell the truth.” Ttds 
remark contained wisdom. Propaganda which paints friends 
entirely white and enemies black persuades only those who 
are already convinced: to others it is humanly incredible. It 
paints human events as abstractions which only those who have 
no eyes can believe in. It dismays those who are sympa- 
thetic to the cause but also open-eyed. 

On several occasions Communist-directed propaganda re- 
sulted in strong reactions against the Republic by people who 
had been deceived. In Valencia I met a man who provided a 
striking example of this disillusionment He was an American 
journalist, writing for a great British newspaper, and certainly 
one of the most distinguished sympathizers with the Repub- 
licans. He would sit in the lounge of the Hotel Victoria, read- 
ing his paper with indignation, as he saw, day after day, that 
it printed the long reports of the correspondent who was with 
Franco, and cut his own almost to nothing. One day this 
journalist, who had that innocence which is sometimes a 
quality of intelligent Americans, asked me whetiier I con- 
sidered that several murders which had been reported recently 
in Valencia and Barcelona were really committed by Re- 
publicans. I replied that it was only to be expected that violent 
acts should accompany a revolutionary war. *Tn that case, why 
do they deny what is going on?” he asked innocently, and 
went on: “Doesn’t such an idea shake your confidence in the 
Republic?” “Not at aU,” I answered, “If I believed that such 

Stephen Spender 251 

things really happened whilst they denied them, I would lose 
all faith in the Republican cause,” he said. 

A few weeks later he went to Barcelona at the time of the 
liquidation of the POUM. He repudiated the Communist-in- 
spired version of the POUM activities, left Spain, and ceased to 
be a supporter of the Republic. 

In July, 1937, I attended the International Congress of 
Writers which me1|j in Valencia and Madrid. At this time Andr6 
Gide had just published his book Retour de TU.R.S,S. This 
book was a journal "Vhkh, if it had been written about 
America, Britain, Italy or France, would have excited little 
comment and certainly no indignation. But, as it concerned 
Russis^ and as, while finding much to praise, Gide also noted 
the adulation of Stalin and an atmosphere of suspicion and 
fear which he found distasteful, a shriek went up from all the 
Communists all over the world as from the mother of a spoiled 
child whom a passer-by has rebuked roughly. From being the 
world's greatest writer who had gone to pay homage to the 
world's most advanced democracy, Gide became a Fascist, a 
decadent, a traitor, reviled by the Communist press in terms 
which seemed to me at the time almost unbelievable. 

The Russian delegates at this congress were impressive only 
for their arrogance and mental torpidity. When they made 
speeches, they said little or nothing about literature. Instead, 
they snarled at Trotsky and Gide, praised Stalin and the Com- 
munists, and then sat down. Ilya Ehrenbinrg, Alexei Tolstoy, 
Koltsov and the others never said anything, in public or in 
private, which could stimulate discussion amongst the other 
delegates. They had no views of their own. Koltsov excelled 
in improvising parodies of Gide s book. However, this gift did 
not save him from disappearing entirely from the public view 
on his return to Russia. 

At the Writers' Congress I remarked on the unwilliugness of 
people to believe what they did not want to believe, to see 
what they do not want to see. I drove from Valencia to Barce- 
lona, on our return, in a car in which there was also a Com- 

252 Stephen Spender 

munist poet, a lady novelist and her friend, a poetess. I sat 
in front of the car with the Catalan driver, a genial, violent 
man, who boasted to me that during the incidents at the time 
of the liquidation of the POUM he had shot five people dead 
in cold blood on the streets of Barcelona. 

, When we were waiting on the frontier, the lady novelist, 
who had a correct, govemessy manner — and whose way of 
explaining her every wish was to say: "I thought it would be 
less selfish. Comrade’^ — ^remarked that during the ten days of 
the Congress and our journey in Spam w^had seen no evidence 
of behavior on the Republican side which was not perfectly 
nice. I could not resist repeating what the chauffeur had just 
told me. At this the ladies and the poet stared at me in stupe- 
fied indignation, looked at one another and then moved away 
without a word. 

There was in Madrid an English writer, who had become a 
political commissar. Fat and fussy, he explained that his 
private’s uniform was a typical example of the improvisation 
of the Republican side, as he ought, really, to be attired as a 
high-ranking officer. The writer-commissar used to give the 
lady writers, the poet and myself little talks explaining the 
background of the War, in our hotel bedroom. The theme of 
his talks was always the same: that the Communists stood for 
unity among the divided supporters of the government and 
in the army and the International Brigade; and that whenever 
they had persuaded the other parties to unite, they then led 
and controlled, if they could, the unified forces. If in some 
instances they held back before gaining control, this was for 
strategic reasons. 

To protest, as I sometimes futilely did, that this kind of 
unity was no unity but betrayal of the other parties from 
within, produced a hopeless stare of reproach from the selfless 
lady novelist. Then perhaps the writer-commissar would ex- 
plain to me, for the hundredth time, my failure to think clearly. 
What I should have thought amounted to this: that "his- 
torically” there was no real position except the Communist 


Stephen Spender 

one. Thus when Communists talk of unity they mean unifying 
various deviating groups and showing tibem the correct line 
of historic development. In order to achieve this, they empha- 
size that they are the party of democracy which wants all the 
forces of progress to unite. To say, though, that the Com- 
munists in doing this represent betrayal of the other parties 
from within is a ‘‘Fascist’’ argument. Communists themselves 
really think that^they are forming a people’s front and to 
think otherwise is simply to be a bad Communist. The writer- 
commissar’s argument was an example of what George Orwell 
calls in his novel 1984 “double-thiiJking.’’ 

Another example of “double-thinking” was to say that Com- 
munists stood for freedom, democracy and the Popular Front, 
and at the same time to label Liberals, Socialists or members 
of the POUM who opposed them Fascists, and, in fact, to 
liquidate them, as the POUM was liquidated in Spain. 

At tliis time I came to a conclusion which, although it may 
appear obvious, was important to the development of my think- 
ing about politics. This was simply that nearly all human 
beings have an extremely intermittent grasp on reality. Only 
a few things, which illustrate their own interests and ideas, are 
real to them; other things, which are in fact equally real, 
appear to them as abstractions. Thus, when men have decided 
to pursue a ^course of action, everything which serves to sup- 
port this seems vivid and real; everything which stands against 
it becomes abstraction. Your friends are allies and therefore 
real human beings with flesh and blood and sympathies like 
yourself. Your opponents are just tiresome, unreasonable, un- 
necessary theses, whose lives are so many false statements 
which you would like to strike out with a lead bullet as you 
would put the stroke of a lead pencil through a bungled para- 

Not to think in this way demands the most exceptional 
qualities of judicious-mindedness or of high imaginative under- 
standing. During the Spanish War it dismayed me to notice 
that I thought like this myself. When I saw photographs of 

254 Stephen Spender 

cMdren murdered by the Fascists, I felt furious pity. When 
the supporters of Franco talked of Red atrocities, I merely 
felt indignant that people should tell such lies. In the first 
case I saw corpses, in the second only words. However, I 
never learned to be unself-critical, and thus I gradually ac- 
quired a certain horror of the way in which my own miijd 
worked. It was clear to me that unless I cared about every 
murdered child impartially, I did not really qare about children 
being murdered at all. I was performing an obscene mental 
act on certain corpses which became th^ fuel for propagandist 
passions, but I showed my fundamental indifference by not 
caring about those other corpses who were the victims of the 

If I am correct in thinking that human beings have a 
tendency to think abstractly, and without weighing the human 
realities which are operated on by their political passions, the 
mentality of Communists is not very difficult to explain. They 
have adopted a theory of society which encourages a human 
vice: to regard their own cause and their own supporters as 
real, and all other causes and their exponents as abstract 
examples of outmoded theoretical positions. 

It may be maintained that the theory justifies the vice be- 
cause Communism is bound ultimately to increase the quantity 
and quality of human happiness. During these years I gradu- 
ally decided that I did not think so, for the reason that the 
self-righteousness of people who believe that their 'line** is 
completely identifiable with the welfare of humanity and the 
course, of history, so that everyone outside it exists only to be 
refuted or absorbed into the line, results in a dehumanization 
of the Communists themselves. Human history is made by 
people acting upon principles, not on principles regardless of 
the quality of the people. If the principles dehumanize men, 
then the society which these men make is dehumanized. Al- 
though I never have agreed with the view of such as Aldous 
Huxley that all power corrupts, I think that power is only 
saved from corruption if it is humanized with humility. With- 

Stephen Spender 255 

out humility, power is turned to persecutions and executions 
and public lies. 

I could not help noticing with myself and my colleagues that 
the encouragement amongst us of the vice of thinJ^g that 
there was only one human cause and one human side had a 
bad effect on our personalities. It taught us to exploit suffering 
for our own purposes, and to ignore it when it did not serve 
these. It encour^ed us to form a partial and incomplete 
picture of conflicts, and discouraged us from correcting this 
picture in the light of immediate experience if this conflicted 
with our theoretical views. 

With the Communist intellectuals I was always confronted 
by the fact that they had made a calculation when they became 
Communists which had changed the whole of reality for them 
into the crudest black and white. In day-to-day living every 
factor which they confronted could not affect the huge ab- 
stract calculation in their minds. The Revolution was the 
beginning and the end, the sum of aU sums. Someday, some- 
where, everything would add up to the happy total which 
was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat and a Communist 
society. This way of thinking canceled out aU experiential 

Thus the intellectual Communists seemed extremely inter- 
ested in theory, very little in evidence which might conflict 
with theory. For example, I never met any who had the 
slightest interest in any side of Russia which was not the 
Stalinist propagandist presentation. It does not surprise me 
that during the Kravchenko case in Paris, Communists and 
fellow-travelers should have volunteered to give evidence 
against the book I Chose Freedom though they had no pre- 
tensions to any knowledge of Russia. From their point of view 
all they had to know was that Kravchenko was opposed to the 
Soviet System. This proved he must be wrong. 

The same disregard for scrupulousness in anything but theory 
appHed to behavior. The ends justified the means. Thus the 
correspondent of the Communist paper took a quite pedantic 


Stephen Spender 

pleasure in telling me that it was necessary to lie. Thus the 
writer-commissar told me with pride how he had arranged 
for a soldier who was in some way unreliable to be sent to a 
part of the Spanish Front where he was certain to be shot. 
Thus Harry Pollitt, who published in 1939 a statement that 
the war was being waged for democracy against Fascisnj, 
promptly withdrew this statement when it did not suit the 
convenience of Russia, and agreed that it^ was a squabble 
between imperialist capitalists on both sides. Thus, when in 
1946 I met a leader of the British Somfnunist Party, he said 
to me accusingly: ‘Why do you fuss about the lives of a few 
thousand Poles, when the whole Soviet Union is at stake?” 
The argument of an abstract sum held in one’s mind, which 
cancels out all lesser considerations, always holds. If the 
Party line changes and it is decided that what yesterday was 
democracy today is called Fascism, there is no inconsistency, 
because the Party line consists only of an attitude taken up by 
the Party towards non-Communists, all of whom are equally 
the objects of statements turning them into abstractions. 

The emphasis of the Communists is thus always on the 
application of theory to reality. The happy Communist lives 
in a state of historical-materialist grace in which, instead of 
never seeing the wood for the trees, he never sees the trees 
for the wood. 

As I was never in a state of grace, the extraordinary cer- 
tainty of Communists about things of which they knew almost 
nothing, but to which they applied their theories, always 
mystified me. Another mystery was the way in which Com- 
munists who had known the answer to everything could and 
did sometimes cease to be Communists, producing then as 
reasons for their change those very objections which had 
previously existed for them only to be disregarded or ex- 
plained away. 

An interesting example of such a change was Mrs. Charlotte 
Haldane, the novelist, who was then die wife of Professor 
Haldane, When I knew her at the time of the Spanish Civil 

Stephen Spender 257 

War, Mrs. Haldane was a good example of the Communist in a 
state of grace. On one occasion, after a meeting, I remember 
driving with her along a London road where there were queues 
of people waiting in drizzling rain for trams. “Queues!'" Mrs. 
Haldane exclaimed. “How disgraceful. Such things would not 
be tolerated in Russia!"" “But surely there are queues in Russia,"" 
I protested, “I have read about them."" Mrs. Haldane gave liie 
the look of noble scorn coupled with lofty pity which is typical 
of derided ComAiunist womanhood. 

However, during Ijie War, Mrs. Haldane went to Russia, as 
a strong Stalinist sympathizer. On her return, she parted 
company with both the Communist Party and her husband. 
Professor Haldane. Later she wrote an article for the press 
whi^ is illuminating in one sense, mystifying in another. In 
this she wrote: 

Every word and every act of Soviet citizens, scientists as 
well as others, is permeated by the conscious awareness of 
unceasing Communist Party vigilance, spying and record- 

Every word that is spoken, written, published, is subject 
to such totalitarian scrutiny, and at any time may be pro- 
duced in evidence against fhe speaker or writer. 

What mystifies about this is why Mrs. Haldane should have 
had to go to Russia to discover it. She could have deduced as 
much from a dozen books, of which she can hardly have failed 
to read one, Gide"s Retour de TU,R,S,S, If she did not believe 
that there was Communist persecution on Gide"s evidence, she 
can scarcely have failed to notice the hysterical Communist 
persecution with which that book was received, which made 
perfectly clear the treatment which the Communists would 
give Gide if they had the opportunity. The only explanation 
of her change of heart is that what had seemed irrelevant to 
her before she went to Russia suddenly became relevant during 
her visit. She is certainly to be congratulated on the honesty 
with which she changed her views. In the same article she 
raises, with what may be a backward look at Professor Hal- 


Stephen Spender 

dane, a question far more important than why writers should 
be Stalinists: why scientists should be. She essays to answer 

. . . They only see, as through a glass, darldy, or preferably 
through rose-colored spectacles, a "socialist” country in 
, which fabulous sums are devoted by the State to scientific 
research, in which scientists are highly paid compared to the 
rest of the people, and are unimpeded in their work by the 
fear that their discoveries may be exploited for personal 
profit by big business men. ^ e 

Perhaps some personal impressions of Professors J. B. S. 
Haldane and J. D. Bernal, whom I have observed at a dis- 
tance over some years, will at least show that scientists are 
human like everyone else, and will underline what I have 
already suggested: that we cannot begin to trust our fellow 
beings, however intelligent they may be, unless we are sure 
that their principles are tempered by that sense of their 
limitations which I call humility. 

Professor Haldane strikes me as a man of great qualities, 
of which perhaps humility is the least outstanding. \^en he 
was teaching at Cambridge University, he had the reputation 
of a rather eccentric professor who indulged in heroic self- 
display. Shortly before the War, when he was making experi- 
ments in the Haldane Air Raid Shelter, publicity was given to 
the fact that Professor Haldane insisted on sitting in one of 
the shelters whilst high explosives were dropped near by. 

During the Spanish Civil War I was one evening at a Christ- 
mas party given by his sister, Naomi Mitchison, when Haldane 
appeared, having just returned from Spain. Haldane seemed 
quite unhappy until die children s charades were stopped and 
he could regale the guests with stories of his violent Spanish 
adventures. I have the impression of Haldane as a kind of 
schoolboy, with a delight in scientific adventure, underneath 
the professor. He seems to enjoy displays of violence. Mrs. 
Haldane has probably indicated another aspect of his charac- 

Stephen Spender 259 

ter when she hints that scientists see in the Soviet Union a 
vast field where highly honored scientists are free to carry out 
scientific experiments. 

I do not say aU this to denigrate scientists such as Haldane 
and Bernal, but simply to indicate that it is wrong to think 
that scientists show the same qualities of detachment and con- 
siderateness in their social attitudes as they do in the labora- 
tory. They are as liable as anyone else to be carried away 
by their emotions; and planned societies offer them specid 
temptations. ^ ^ 

Bernal makes a less bearish and schoolboyish impression 
than Haldane. Or rather, he is another type of boy, a genius 
no d®ubt in his scientific work, but inspired also with a social 
passion. He is excited by ideas of designing the perfect house 
for socialized human beings, which will be a machine of living 
to supersede all past architecture. He is fascinated also by 
every kind of planning for human beings. In his social thought, 
he shows a tendency to extravagant fantasies which he prob- 
ably would not indulge in his scientific work. 

In our society we give scientists credit for superhuman 
vidsdom. In fact, it would perhaps be truer to say that, like 
other specialists and virtuosi, they are slightly inhuman. On 
the one hand, they show enthusiasm for schemes which tend 
to turn society into a vast field for scientific experiment On 
the other hand, they have done litde or nothing to protect 
society from the misuse of their discoveries. For the most 
part, when there is mention of their being responsible for 
destructive inventions, they take refuge in their position as 
pure scientists. They show extremely little sense of what a 
contemporary society owes to the cultural tradition of the 
past, or of what we would lose if, for example, most past 
architecture were destroyed and replaced by perfect madhines 
for living. 

In HideFs Germany, the scientists lent themselves to 
schemes for sterilizing and destroying the mentally unfit, for 

260 Stephen Spender 

exterminating whole populations, for using human beings as 
the subjects for experiments. A friend of mine, himself a 
scientist who went to Germany after the War to study the 
activities of German scientists, told me that what shocked him 
most was to discover that when human beings were made avail- 
able to German scientists for experimental purposes/they used 
them with ruthless extravagance, often to make experiments 
which were completely imnecessary. I am not suggesting that 
scientists elsewhere would do the same thing. But it is neces- 
sary to point out that scientists can derive from science qua 
science no objections to such experiments as exterminating 
the mentally unfit. If they do object, they are acting upon non- 
scientific values. Modem science has produced no reason to 
prevent science from being directed by governments toward 
purposes of enormous destruction in every country. Science is 
simply an instrument, for good or for bad. For it to be directed 
toward good, whoever directs it must have some conception 
of humanity wider than that of a planned scientific society. 
There must be a purpose in society beyond good planning. 
Without such a purpose, to submit society to a dictatorship for 
the purpose of planned science is simply to lay down the lines 
for anotiber misuse of science. For in Russia it is the politicians 
who plan the science. 

Thus when people like Bernal, Haldane and Joliot-Curie 
become Communists, I am skeptical of their having any motive 
except a blind faith in the instrument of science. But this in- 
strument has no moral purpose, and when scientists are in 
favor of its being put into the hands of politicians who im- 
prison their political opponents, and who even go so far as to 
persecute scientists whose researches show a tendency to pro- 
duce results inconsistent with the political views of the State, 
then we may say that these Communist scientists are victims of 
a kind of moral blindness which has long characterized science. 

During the 1930’s I observed my Communist colleagues, I 
admired their courage and I did not suspect them of self- 
interest. They had sacrificed a great deal, and were prepared 


Stephen Spender 

to sacrifice more, for the sake of a cause in which they pro- 
foundly believed. But apart from this courage and sacrifice, it 
seemed often that their best qualities had been put to the 
service of their worst, and their personalities destroyed. They 
believed in making the poor militant, but not in loving their 
neighbors". Truth for them was a slave which waited on the 
convenience of a small inner circle of leaders. They accepted 
hatred as the mainspring of action. They distorted the mean- 
ings of epithets^ which they applied to nations, parties and 
individuals without^ the* slightest realization that to misuse 
words produces confusion. “Peace” in their language could 
mean ‘War”; ‘War”— “Peace”; “Unity”— ‘betrayal from 
within”; “Fascism” — ^“Socialism.” 

Apart from the necessity of serving the Party, they were 
under no obligation to discipline vanity, malice, officiousness 
and treachery in themselves. Indeed, these things might well 
become virtues if they were useful to the Party. 

Often I found that a human and sympathetic Communist 
was a bad Communist to the extent that he was human and 
sympathetic, and that he was well aware of this himself. 

During these years I came to realize that Communists are 
divided, roughly, into four categories: (A) The theoreticians 
who know in an abstract and general way the methods they 
are using, but who thmk of these abstractly as “necessity.” (B) 
Those who are completely and happily deluded about Russia 
and about the methods employed by their comrades. (C) The 
workers who have nothing to lose except their chains, who are 
fighting against capitalist exploitation and for whom bread 
is more important than freedom. (D) The police, political 
commissars, agents, spies, etc. These last are perhaps the only 
Communists who know, with any completeness, the facts about 
prison camps and trials. 

When I joined the Communist Party, I expected that in 
doing so I would get to know what the Communists were 
doing; that I would be able to measure their means against 

262 Stephen Spender 

the methods of capitalism; and that I would learn to accept 
the relationship of means to ends. 

I had not expected to find that the actions of the Com- 
munists in Russia and in Spain were denied by the Communists 
amongst themselves. Or possibly, that they were completely 
ignorant of them. 

I have already given the examples of Chalmers not being 
interested in the Russian trials, and of the refusal of my literary 
companions in Spain to listen to facts which complicated their 
simple picture of events. There cam^ a time when I had col- 
lected two examples, which seemed to me irrefutable, of be- 
havior for which Party members should accept responsibility. 
One of these was a story told to me by a famous American 
woman writer, whose husband was a Russian. One morning 
when they were m Moscow, the police had arrived at their 
apartment at 3 a.m. and taken her husband away. Since then, 
she had never seen him nor received any communication from 
him. She had no idea what he was supposed to have done. 
She herself had been a Communist. This was a case which was 
fairly well known, as American and British intellectuals had 
concerned themselves with the fate of this unfortunate man. 
They had written letters to the Secretariat of the Comintern. 
At first these letters had been acknowledged with a promise 
that inquiries would be made into the case. After this there 
was silence from the Secretariat, and further letters from the 
friends of the American woman were not answered. 

The other story concerned a friend of mine, Y, who was in the 
International Brigade. Y was a nephew of an influential states- 
man, who at the request of Ts mother had asked the heads 
of the Brigade that Y should not be sent into battle. 

Through an indiscretion, when I was in Spain, I mentioned 
to Y that his uncle had done this. Y, who was brave, was 
furious. He deserted from the Brigade, and allowed himself to 
be retaken, asking that as a punishment he should fight. In this, 
he succeeded. He fought in the battle of Morata. During the 
few days when he was in prison, he was confined with several 


Stephen Spender 

other prisoners in a very small cell. *‘But that was nothing," he 
told me. "Other prisoners came into our cell who regarded it 
as the freedom of a wide open space. They had been shut for 
as much as forty-eight hotirs on end in cells the size of cup- 
boards." Y was not particularly shocked at these conditions, 
nor did they alter his general attitude towards the Republic. 
On the whole he regarded his experiences as rather amusing. 

At a meeting pf the small group of Communist writers in 
London I told these stories, for a reason which I explained in 
words such as these: ^‘Oficourse I imderstand that you have no 
reason to believe these particular incidents. But I baow enough 
to know that they are characteristic. Therefore, if you do not 
believe what I know to be typical, I shall know that you are 
ignorant of facts which in my opinion you should certainly 
know. Whether you know them or not, and whether you deny 
them or not, has become extremely important to me. For if you 
are ignorant of them, or if you deny them even among your- 
selves, I shall feel that to belong to a Party whose members 
have no knowledge of the Party s actions, is a responsibility I 
cannot share. On the other hand, if you admit them, and if you 
argue that it is necessary to deny them in public, I shall feel 
that you are serious, and perhaps I shall accept your point of 

When I had finished speaking, one writer got up and said; 
"It is typical of Comrade Spenders bourgeois mentality that 
he invents stories of this kind." Another then said: "Even if 
what Comrade Spender says is not altogether invented, it is 
characteristic that he draws attention to these incidents which 
are quite unimportant, in order to defend himself from havmg 
to face the real issues." A third, who was well-disposed toward 
me said: "Look here, Stephen, you ought to remember that as 
your friend Y was himself m prison where he claims that these 
things happened, he is likely to have an embittered attitude. 
So you should not attach importance to his evidence." 

It was useless to say that Y was not in the least embittered 
and that this was my reason for choosing his story out of sev- 

264 Stephen Spender 

eral others which I might have quoted. Nor would it have 
helped to say that according to the arguments which had just 
been used we might ignore all the crimes of Fascism as being 
either irrelevant to the historic achievements of Hitler, or else 
as resting on the evidence of people who, having themselves 
been beaten and bullied and tormented, were embittered and 
prejudiced witnesses. I had discovered that these people did 
not consider that they were in any way answerable for the 
actions of the Cause which they supported. 

I began to wonder how much Qomihunists know about 
Communism. I still wonder. Other Communists do not say to 
them: ""We have slave camps in Russia.’^ Quite the contrary, if 
a fellow Communist even suggested this, he would be accused 
of occupying himself with unimportant details, if not of being 
a Fascist. At what point in Mr. Pollitt's career can a fellow 
member of the Comintern or Cominform have taken him aside 
and told him anything of Russia which was not propaganda? 

The members of the Party know less than outsiders imagine 
about actual conditions in Communist-dominated countries. 
However, they do know about certain principles of dictatorship, 
because these are part of their ideology. Thus when I met M. 
Rdkosi, the Communist Deputy Prime Minister of Hungary in 
1947, almost the first remark he made to me was that the 
British Labor Government was ""Fascist.’^ When I ^asked him 
what he meant by this, he said: ""For two reasons. Firstly, they 
have not filled the British Army with Socialist generals. Sec- 
ondly, they have not taken over Scotland Yard."^ 

This attitude has implications which have become more 
obvious today than they were twelve years ago. They were 
underlined for me by Benes in an interview which I had with 
him in Prague in the winter of 1946. Benes said that he thought 
the rulers of Russia probably could not have achieved their 
revolution without the terrible means which they had used. 
But, he added with emotion, he thanked God that he- had 
never been called upon to use such means and he hoped that 
he would not have to. 

Stephen Spender 265 

In writing this essay, I have always been aware that no 
criticism of the Communists removes the arguments against 
capitalism. The eJSect of these years of painful experiences has 
only been to reveal to me that both sides are forces producing 
oppression, injustice, destruction of liberties, enormous evils. 
It is to be said for capitalism that since it has long been estab- 
lished it can afford the luxury of freedom in tlie arts and in 
debate amongst political parties; but at the same time capital- 
ism as we see it today in America, the greatest capitalist coun- 
try, seems to offer *no alternative to war, exploitation and 
destruction of the world’s resources. Communism, if it could 
achieve internationalism and the socialization of the means of 
production, might establish a world which would not be a mass 
of automatic economic contradictions. 

However, even on the assumption that world revolution 
could be achieved and a Communist political and economic 
system be established throughout the world, the culture and 
well-being of the new classless society would depend on one 
further assumption: that the Dictatorship of the Proletariat 
would "wither away.” 

Marx and the Communist writers assume always that this 
will be so. They do not need to be precise about how the 
withering will happen. Their thought is that the destruction of 
capitalism is accomplished according to laws which are the 
mechanical working out of contradictions within the capitalist 
system itself; that the seizure of power by the proletariat, 
although partly the result of human volition, also follows the 
same mechanical development. Thus, when the fatality of this 
action has achieved itself, the mechanistic necessity for the 
whole process of decay of capitalism and rise of the proletariat 
will fall away. The withering of the dictatorship vdll follow 
automatically from a situation where the workers have no 
more enemies. 

If this were true, the objections to Communism would be 
objections to temporary inconveniences. Very inconvenient, it 
is true, for the victims of revolutionary action and propaganda, 

266 Stephen Spender 

but still a price worth paying for an international world where 
all nations lived in harmony one with another. 

But if it be not certain that that dictatorship will wither 
away, then criticism of the Communists and dieir methods 
today becomes criticism of the dictatorship of tomorrow and 
the day after tomorrow and the day after that 

Now one of the lessons of the last thirty years has certainly 
been that a dictatorship established in the modem world, with 
aU the modem resources of secret police, propaganda, terror, 
etc. is extremely diflScult to remove. 8talia, Hitler, Mussolini 
and Franco have none of them been seriously threatened by 
revolt within their own countries. Those who have fallen have 
only done so as the result of the complete ruin of their nations, 
brought on them by other coimtries. It seems reasonable to 
think then that a world dictatorship would be the most immov- 
able dictatorship of all. Nor, in the light of Russian experience, 
can one believe that Communism or any other party would 
produce dictators, bureaucrats and police who were willing to 
“wither away.” 

Thus, to study the characteristics of the commissars and 
dictators of today is to learn something of the laws and the 
nature of the Communist State which may gain power tomor- 
row; and which, if it gains power, will not abandon it. 

Amongst the Communist intellectuals during the 1930’s I 
noticed behavior which in Eastern Europe has today become 
institutionalized in the Syndicates of Writers which dictate to 
novelists and poets what they should think and feel. The main 
preoccupation of the groups of writers who met to discuss the 
perennial problem of Art and Society was that literature should 
demonstrate Marxist theories of the superiority of the prole- 
tariat and the necessity of revolution. This intellectual view 
of society inevitably extended far beyond any individual 
experience. Experience could only be drawn on in order to 
Illustrate an aspect of a foregone conclusion, arrived at in- 
dependently of the experience. 


Stephen Spender 

However sincere the Marxism of the writers, the domination 
of a theory in their minds which has preceded every experi- 
ence, had certain inevitable results. Since what was most im- 
portant was to be a theoretical Marxist, it followed that the 
best Marxists, who were often the worst writers, had an advan- 
tage over those writers who with humility looked to their 
experiences for their art It meant that the theoreticians auto- 
matically became literary critics, analyzing the whole of litera- 
ture, past and present, according to the ideological views of 
the writer. Thus, I Imve listened to a Communist poet explain- 
ing to a Hampstead Literary. Society on the occasion of a 
Keats anniversary that, although Keats was no Marxist, we 
coujd at least claim that in being the son of an ostler, and ill 
with consumption which the State did not attend to, he had 
the merit of being a victim of capitalism. And to the same 
writer pointing out that Joyce s Finnegans Wake illustrates the 
disintegration of thought and language of the bourgeois in- 
dividualist world. It was he also, by the way, who, when Vir- 
ginia Woolf took her own life in 1941, wrote in a maimer of 
congratulating her on having chosen the path of historic neces- 
sity, and indicating that other bourgeois writers could be 
expected to follow her example. 

I listened with disgust to the dogmatic crowing of inferior 
talents. There was something degrading about the assumption 
that a political theory of society could place him who held it 
in a position where he could reject the insights of genius, un- 
less these proved to be, after all, apphcations of a political 
theory to aesthetic material. 

I felt scarcely less revulsion for that extensive Marxist lit- 
erary criticism which interprets literature as myths consciously 
or unconsciously invented by writers to serve the interests of 
some historically ascendant class. To my mind, although poets 
such as Dante and Shakespeare are certainly in a sense both 
men of their time and political thinkers, there is a transcendent 
aspect of their experience which takes them beyond human 
social interests altogether. Society may follow them into lumi- 

268 Stephen Spender 

nous revelations about the universal nature of life which are 
quite outside and beyond the preoccupations of any particular 
historic epoch, and in that sense society may be elevated by 
them; but their illuminations are not just the projected wish- 
ful thinkings of their society. 

To me the beliefs of poets are sacred revelations, illustra- 
tions of a reality about the nature of life, which I may not 
share, but which I cannot and do not wish to explain away as 
“social phenomena.” If art teaches us anything, it is that man 
is not entirely imprisoned within his society. From art, society 
may even learn to some extent to escape from its own prison. 

Not to believe that in some sense art is the communication 
of experience unique to the individual artist is to • judg^ art 
simply as an expression of social needs. This means that, since 
poets and artists are not the best judges of the ideology which 
is an expression of the development of society, political 
theorists are in a position to dictate to them what society needs 
from their art. This, I found, was the attitude of the Com- 

I remember very well during the 1930's a meeting held by 
the organizers of the Group Theater to discuss a verse play 
of mine. Trial of a Judge^ which had been performed. A 
smartly dressed young Communist woman got up and pro- 
tested against the play. She and her fellow Communists, she 
said, were deeply disappointed. They had expected this play 
to outline a situation in which the Fascists were capitalists, 
the liberals were feeble and the Communists were right — ^which 
they knew very well. But instead of this, it showed a tendency 
to sympathize with the liberal point of view. Moreover, in 
the last act there was even an element of mysticism. Now, she 
said, it is not liberalism or mysticism which we want from 
our writers but militant Communism. And so on. 

Her point of view was exactly that of Harry PoUitt, who, 
whenever I met him, would say: “Why don’t you write .songs 
for the workers, as Byron, Shelley and Wordsworth did?” An 
imanswerable question — unless I wish to get the English 

Stephen Spender 269 

Romantic poets into some kind of posthumous disgrace. It 
may seem that the young girl and Harry PoUitt are crude 
examples; Stalin would be a still cruder but more effective 
one. Sometimes a great deal of crudeness is expressed with a 
certain subtlety. For example, in Czechoslovakia in 1947, the 
Russian Professor of Russian at one of the great Universities, 
himself a Communist (and a man of intelligence and charm), 
defended the attack by the Soviet Union of Writers on Paster- 
nak, Zoschenko knd others, on the grounds that Russia did 
not need good writers. "Qf course, these are our best writers,” 
he said, ^‘but we cannot afford to have good writers. Our best 
poets write poems which depress the people by expressing a 
suicidal sense of the purposelessness of life. But we want 
people to work as they have never done before, so we cannot 
permit writers to say that they are unhappy.” 

But in the midst of this folly, let me not lose sight of the 
main issue. Perhaps violence, concentration camps, the per- 
version of the sciences and the arts are justified if these methods 
result eventually in making the classless society. This is the 
argument which I have always had in mind, an argument of 
such weight that if it were true it would make objections to 
a Communism which could really create a just international 
society, trivial. 

My conclusion is, though, that the Communist Parties of the 
world, as they are organized today, could not make a better 
world. They might even make a far worse one. The reason 
why I think this is that too much power is concentrated in 
the hands of too few people. These few people are so pro- 
tected from criticism of their conduct on any except Party 
lines, that neither they themselves, nor anyone else is protected 
from their worst human qualities: savagery, vindictiveness, 
envy, greed and lust for power. 

Because I do not believe that the central organizations of 
the Commxmists are capable of making a classless society, or 
indeed of doing anything except establish the rule of a 
peculiarly vindictive and jealous bureaucracy, I do not feel 

270 Stephen Spender 

tiiat I should surrender my own judgment to theirs, however 
powerful and eflEective theirs may be, however ineffective my 

The Communists represent a degree of centralization on a 
scale never known until now. The political Party — ^which is 
the only political party — ^is itself centralized, and dependent 
on the directives of a few men. All other functions of the 
State are centralized also on to the political direction. 

The effect of centering art on to politics would, in the long 
run, mean the complete destruction of ar% and it would even- 
tually mean great misfortune for many people, even if it were 
impossible to endanger the police-protected, central authority. 
In Russia, the arts are in fact already effectively destroyed, as 
the Communists themselves sometimes rather surprisingly ad- 
mit. (Ilya Ehrenburg explained to me in Paris in 1945 that the 
Russians would not take part in an exhibition of international 
painting because they had no good painters. He went on to 
say that the novel of today was American and that Russia 
excelled only in music. But a Hungarian Communist said to 
me in 1946 that the Russians had destroyed literature and 
painting in Russia, and were now proceeding to destroy music. ) 

Now the artist is simply the most highly developed in- 
dividual consciousness in a society. He does not have an 
oflB^cial generalized view of human needs and activities, but 
he does have a profound insight into the feelings and experi- 
ences, the state of happiness and unhappiness of individuals. 
To say that the artist is an individualist is not to say that he 
creates only out of himself only for himself. It is to say that 
he creates out of a level of his own experiences, which has 
profound connections with the experiences of many people on 
a level where they are not just expressions of social needs. 

Literature and art are therefore a temoignage^ a witness- 
ing of the human condition within the particular circum- 
stances of time and place. To make individual experience 
submit to the generali^tion of ojBScial information and obser- 
vation, is to cut humanity off from a main means of becoming 

Stephen Spender 271 

conscious of itself as a community of individuals existing to- 
gether within many separate personal lives. It is difficult 
to believe that a central authority of the State which denies 
writers and artists the freedom to express their intuitions if 
these are contrary to the politics of the State has the vitahty 
and mord force to give people happy lives. All it has is a 
"machinery and an organization to take the place of living. To 
destroy the freedom of art is really a kind of madness, like 
destroying the freedom of the individual to have ears to hear 
sounds to which his mfnd is sensitive, and to replace them 
with microphones which are only tuned in to hear what the 
State directives wish him to hear, which are the sounds relayed 
by the State amplifiers. Yet the destruction of this freedom is 
justified by a slogan: that freedom is die recognition of neces- 
sity. The political freedom of necessity is the necessity of the 
State version of the needs of generalized, collectivized man. 
The freedom of art speaks for the individuality of each human 
being. Although art is not the same as politics, art is political 
in that it is forever widening our conception of human free- 
dom, and this widening process alters our conception of life 
from generation to generation, and ultimately has an effect on 
the political aims of society. 

An unfriendly critic might well say that this essay is more 
effective as a criticism of myself than of Communism. I hope 
he would say this, because I have intended to criticize myself 
in relation to Communism, rather than to embark on the hope- 
less task of criticizing Communism. Communism is the belief 
that society can be altered by turning men into machines for 
altering society. If one is dissatisfied with society in its present 
form — as I am — one cannot criticize this view, one can only 
relate oneself to it, using it as a means of criticizing and test- 
ing oneself and one^s beliefs. That is what I have tried to do 

Looking back, I can see that my self-criticism begins with 
my first interview with PoUitt, when he spoke of the necessity 

272 Stephen Spender 

of hating capitaKsm, In fact, I felt no such hatred in my heart. 

I was driven on by a sense of social and personal guilt which 
made me feel firstly that I must take sides, secondly that I 
could purge myself of an abnormal individuality by cooper- 
ating with the Workers’ Movement. 

It is clear to me now that I did not need to join- the Com- 
munists, because I had already taken sides. My side was who- 
ever believed in social justice, freedom, and telling the truth 
about the methods which it was necessary t6 use in order to 
attain these ends. If politicians can:got jaake an honest and 
open side, then the intellectuals must choose to support the 
least dishonest politicians, at once helping them and criticizing 
them and exposing their methods of violence and lies. ^ 

The conflict of the liberal conscience of men of good will 
in the 1930’s centered on the problem of means and ends. It 
was argued that in order to gain power you had to use bad 
means, while indignantly denying that you were doing so. My 
duty as a writer and an intellectual was to state this dilemma. 

To some extent, after my initial mistake, I did state it. 
Nevertheless, I reproached and criticized myselE for that which 
was not only of value in me, but was duty: this was a sense of 
social anguish, together with the reality within myself of an 
intractable personality which would not fit into a social move- 

I allowed myselE to be forced into the position of feeling 
guilty not only about my owa indecisions, but about the very 
virtues of love and pity and a passion for individual freedom 
which had brought me close to Communism. The Communists 
told me that these feelings were ‘bourgeois.” The Communist, 
having joined the Party, has to castrate himself of the reasons 
which have made him one. 

It is evident to me now that my duty is to state what I sup- 
port without taking sides. Neither side, in the present align- 
ment of the world, represents what I believe to be the orfy 
solution of the world’s problems. This is: for the peoples and 
nations who love liberty to lead a movement throughout the 

Stephen Spender 273 

world to improve tie conditions of the millions of people who 
care more for bread than for freedom; thus raising them to a 
level of existence where they can care for freedom. The in- 
terests of the very few people in the world who care for the 
values of freedom must be identified with those of the many 
who need bread, or freedom will be lost,